Ambition holds key to railways

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THIS has been a chastening week for Northern Rail after it was totally overwhelmed by spectator numbers for the Tour de France. Judging by the tone of the letters on this page, readers of The Yorkshire Post do not appear to be in a forgiving mood.

They’re right. With 18 months to prepare for the Grand Départ, this was a golden opportunity for the publicly subsidised operator to highlight the benefits of train travel to a new generation of passengers. Judging by the angry and chaotic scenes at Leeds Station, the firm failed to live up to expectations.

However, its complacency to customer service – it continues to expect passengers to turn up and pay for the privilege of travelling in overcrowded conditions – is symptomatic of successive governments, Tory and Labour, failing to realise the potential of railways across Yorkshire and the North.

This lack of ambition is reflected by the depressing tone of the Government’s latest consultation documents for the new rail franchises to serve the region. Even though passenger numbers being at record levels, they seem intent on making the railways pay by a combination of fare increases and subsidy cuts rather than looking at what more can be done, now and in the future, so more people can travel by train as a matter of routine.

Yet the most surprising aspect of this narrow-mindedness is that it appears to contradict the recent speech by George Osborne in which the Chancellor outlined the North’s potential as “an economic powerhouse” as he raised the possibility of a new high-speed link between Leeds and Manchester. For, in every respect, this is precisely the type of ambition and vision that needs to be applied to those local services which are simply not ‘fit for purpose’ because of those firms which continue to take their customers for a ride.

Church faces its defining test

TWENTY YEARS after the Church of England ordained its first female priests, its General Synod will spend the weekend in York soul-searching about whether to extend this right to women bishops.

This issue threatens to be as divisive as the November 2012 decision to veto, by a narrow margin, a move which reflects the rise of women in society – Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is already drawing up a contingency plan in case bishops do not embrace change.

After all, this navel-gazing does appear contradictory to the lay person when the Queen has been Supreme Governor of the Church of England for more than 60 years and at a time when females now account for one third of all clergy.

This is the essence of the profound point made on the opposite page by Nick Baines, who is due to be enthroned next week as the Bishop of Leeds following the creation of a new diocese to serve West Yorkshire and the Dales. He wants to dispel the unhelpful myth that the Church “is interested only in the gender of bishops” by looking at new ways to reach out to parishes, whether it be through pastoral work, community engagement or through his blog which reaches out to an internet audience.

We wish him well with his mission. For, at a time when David Cameron’s recent assertion that Britain is still a predominantly Christian country is then contradicted by the Bishop of Oxford’s suggestion that schools should no longer hold daily acts of worship in case this puts children off religion, the Church needs to start reconciling these mixed messages if it is become an even greater force for good in a changing country.

The price of linguistic ignorance

EVEN THOUGH the Grand Départ will go down in history as a great Yorkshire event, its vibrancy can be attributed, in part, to the number of international cycling devotees who turned this year’s Tour de France into a cosmopolitan celebration.

Their linguistic skills were also striking. They did not have to use phrases like habla usted inglés – Spanish for do you speak English? – because they are multi-lingual and have come to appreciate foreign languages from an early age.

Contrast this enlightenment with those Britons who make no effort, according to a survey, to learn the local language and dialect when they venture overseas. A sad reflection of the ignorance of the individuals concerned, this is also a damning indictment of an education system which pays lip service to lessons in French, German, Spanish or Mandarin. In any language, Britain will be the loser – from a cultural and economic perspective – if this trend continues.