Backward looking

THE past two weeks have got off to the worst imaginable start for rail commuters. On each day, a broken down train left thousands of Leeds and Bradford-bound travellers facing lengthy delays on Northern Rail's services.

Yet, judging by the latest broken promises about the replacement of outdated rolling stock, one aspect of railway policy that always runs according to the timetable, this is likely to become an even more frequent occurrence.

The failure of Ministers to insist on the introduction of new carriages, as part of individual franchise commitments, has not helped. Nor has the Department for Transport's short-sighted decision to backtrack on both the number of new trains being allocated to Northern Rail under a plan originally endorsed by Gordon Brown – a decision compounded by the likely delays to the introduction of extra carriages locally from other networks.

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Once again, scant consideration is being given to the interests or passengers, or a wider recognition that reliable trains, on comfortable rolling stock with a sufficient number of seats, is the key to persuading more people to use public transport.

As South and West Yorkshire's transport authorities say so forcibly, this is a region-wide issue that threatens the area's economic prospects.

As well as being dangerous, excessive overcrowding on rush-hour trains is likely to deter some businesses from investing in the county. This is not in Yorkshire's interests. It's not in the interests of rail operators. And it's certainly not in the interests of a government committed to the English regions.

The challenge is for Ministers, and rail operators, to reverse this backward-looking approach.