North needs a new rail deal

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HOW ironic that the West Coast Main Line franchise fiasco – and the subsequent delays to the awarding of key rail contracts – could yield lasting benefits for train passengers on this side of the Pennines.

HOW ironic that the West Coast Main Line franchise fiasco – and the subsequent delays to the awarding of key rail contracts – could yield lasting benefits for train passengers on this side of the Pennines.

The reason is this. By extending the existing Northern Rail deal on a temporary basis until 2016, it means the next franchise can be considered alongside new arrangements for the TransPennine Express – the main railway between Yorkshire and cities like Manchester and Liverpool.

This is significant. It will give the Ministers the chance to set up one rail franchise for the whole of the North. And they would be foolish not to grasp this opportunity.

After all, the creation of one operator for the North would neatly dovetail with existing plans to enhance connections between major cities in the region as Ministers attempt to increase capacity.

There would need to be safeguards for passengers – one of the original objectives of rail privatisation was to increase competition.

But the by-product has been a complex policy structure where the paying public, the people who matter most of all, play second fiddle on too many occasions to the whims and agendas of those policy-makers and privateers running the railways.

And while the Government has acknowledged the importance of new investment locally through the creation of the Northern Hub, this region is still going to have to punch above its weight if it is secure adequate funding for planned improvements like the electrification of the TransPennine Express.

This is because the extension to the Northern Rail deal came on the very day that the Government signalled its intention to extend the £14.8bn cross-London Crossrail scheme to Reading in Berkshire.

Just think of the improvements that could be yielded if the North’s trains enjoyed such benevolence.

Le Grand Legacy

Tour de France is racing ahead

IF anyone doubted the benefits of Welcome to Yorkshire bringing the Tour de France to this region, those fears will have been allayed by the amount of publicity generated by the many events to mark the 100-day countdown to the Grand Départ and the visit of cycling icon Bernard Hinault.

The landmark was one of the main items on the national news bulletins – while acres of newsprint were devoted to the significance of Yorkshire hosting a global sporting event that is likely to attract millions of spectators to the region in early July.

This is only just the beginning as Gary Verity’s team look to take over King’s Cross Station – and London’s iconic taxis – with promotional posters extolling the virtues of Yorkshire and cycling.

Yet, while the Olympic bandwagon has already moved from London to Rio de Janiero as growing acrimony breaks out about the long-term funding of grassroots sport in this country, it is a major shot in the arm for the county that Yorkshire will host an international road race in 2015, and subsequent years.

The benefits of this legacy will be two-fold. First this major new addition to the global cycling calendar will almost certainly incorporate those parts of the county, like Scarborough, Hull and the East Coast, which are not on the route of the Grand Départ.

Second, this race will provide a longer-term focus to the many campaigns already under way to encourage more people to take up cycling. As such, the Grand Départ should be viewed as just the first leg of an incredible journey into the future for Yorkshire – and also cycling.

Double standards

Parent power over school strife

THE collective decision of parents to impose a symbolic £8,000 fine on Carcroft Primary School, Doncaster, will strike a chord with families across Yorkshire.

Even though there is absolutely no chance of this penalty being paid, the double standards in education policy should be acknowledged – and debated.

The reason is this. If parents take a child out of class in term-time, they can now expect to be fined £60 a day.

Yet, if teachers decide to withdraw their services because of strike action or a training day, there is no sanction – even though it is parents who are left to make alternative childcare arrangements, and invariably at great inconvenience.

This is why this “parent power” protest is so significant. Unless there is a constructive relationship between teachers and parents, the people who will suffer most of all are the children concerned. Is that what anyone wants?