I DESCRIBE myself as a proud Yorkshireman. I was born here, raised here, educated here and worked here. Before I became an MP, I worked for that great Harrogate institution Bettys and Taylors. I am also a devoted, perhaps obsessive, follower of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
That’s why I want passengers in Yorkshire to know I’m on their side and that I’m serious about wanting to see real and meaningful improvements so that passengers get the fast, frequent and modern railway they deserve. That’s important not just in Harrogate, Leeds and York, but right across the network.
I haven’t been in post for long, but this fantastic job has already taken me right across the country, and I have spoken to passengers and frontline railway staff everywhere I’ve been.
Readers will know it is a very busy time for government, but that hasn’t stopped me getting out and having those vital conversations. I’d argue that’s anything but remaining “in the shadows” (the criticism made on January 24 by columnist Tom Richmond, the Comment Editor of The Yorkshire Post).
At Millom station in Cumbria, I spoke with volunteers who had suffered real hardship, hearing about how rewarding work with amazing community rail projects was helping get their lives back on track.
In Derby, I met with young apprentices helping build new, modern trains who told me how they’d be benefitting from the new 16-17 rail card we’re launching later this year.
I’ve seen first-hand in different parts of the country the exceptional work British Transport Police officers and station staff do every single day to keep passengers safe.
I’ve met the Network Rail engineers giving up family time over Christmas in order to deliver crucial maintenance and upgrades. As MP for Harrogate, I also speak to my constituents every week about our railways.
And don’t forget that I am a passenger too. I regularly commute by train across the North, and am a passenger on the train to London and back most weeks. Call it a vested interest, but I know and share the frustrations many people feel.
Put simply, I am a Rail Minister whose door is open, who listens and is firmly in agreement with this paper that our railways should, and can, be better.
People deserve safe, reliable and punctual services – last year, it simply wasn’t good enough for any of us.
That’s why I’m delighted that we are investing £48bn into modernising our railways, reversing decades of under-investment in rail – particularly in the North, to give passengers journeys they can have confidence in.
We have also appointed industry expert Richard George to identify the key underlying issues that cause those frustrating delays and cancellations, and tasked him with making detailed recommendations to deliver improvements quickly.
That’s alongside investing billions into the trans-Pennine upgrade to improve reliability and punctuality, investing in new stations opening right across the North and the potential re-opening of the Colne to Skipton rail link moving closer.
It comes as both Northern and TransPennine Express are investing in new trains for their network that provides extra capacity for more than 40,000 extra passengers.
I am delighted, as I’m sure my fellow Yorkshire commuters will be, to confirm that all those Pacer trains will be retired by the end of this year.
But when things do go wrong, we are making sure people are compensated fairly and quickly. There’s a new Rail Ombudsman to handle difficult complaints, all future franchises will have to deliver one-click compensation, and I was pleased to launch Delay Repay 15 for Northern passengers in Leeds recently.
We are making the investment and changes, both now and for the future, to ensure passengers across the country get the better journeys they deserve. I believe that all rail users, and particularly those in Yorkshire, can be reassured that they have a Rail Minister that is on their side.
Andrew Jones is the Rail Minister. He is also the Conservative MP for Harrogate.