I’ll start with public transport and, firstly, trains. Yes, some new trains are on order, but not enough of them, and the system on which they will run is fragmented and archaic.
Turn your attention from new high speed lines, grand projects which with some modifications could one day be of use to Yorkshire people, and concentrate on the existing Yorkshire and Trans-Pennine systems, where immediate action can deliver rapid results.
That the Leeds-Manchester-Sheffield ‘triangle’ still relies on antiquated diesel-powered ‘buses on rails’ is an outrage. Get it electrified and put some decent, frequent trains on it, with enough seats for peak hour loadings.
Forget the consultants and the reports, and send some of your Department for Transport train boffins, accompanied by a few professionals who actually know how to run railways, to Germany’s Ruhr – a similar sized region to West and South Yorkshire – to see how an efficient, clean inter-urban rail system has been created there. Jeremy Corbyn’s call for nationalisation was popular with voters not for ideological reasons, but because they mistakenly believed it would improve the quality of the service. In fact it would only have led to more paralysing rail strikes.
Yet the DfT already controls the private train operators, and Network Rail, which is responsible for the tracks, signalling and electric traction power supply, is a nationalised company anyway. The present system provides a useful mix of state control and private enterprise. Use it.
Secondly, stations. All stations should have step-free access to all platforms, and this means ramps and escalators as well as lifts. It is extraordinary that the region’s ‘hub’ station of Leeds should have ‘up’ escalators from all platforms, but no ‘down’ ones.
Ridiculous penny-pinching which not only adds to inconvenience and stress, but is also potentially dangerous for those rushing to catch their trains who must literally run down the stairs.
Worse still is Sheffield, where escalators are totally absent from the station and there are only a handful of slow and creaky lifts to help the hapless passenger burdened with baggage.
Thirdly, tickets. This is an area where England, in this case Transport for London, has led the way with its excellent Oyster card system, valid on trains and buses throughout the Greater London area and beyond. Admittedly, there are sub-regional tickets in parts of Yorkshire, but there is nothing pan-region: and by that I mean including Greater Manchester.
If you want the Northern Powerhouse to become a reality, you must have a Northern Powerhouse Oyster card or equivalent. Take a lesson from Switzerland too, where inexpensive country-wide and regional go-anywhere passes, valid for any length of time from a day to a year, are the rule rather than the exception.
Lastly, buses. Incredibly, a recent proposal for trolley buses in Leeds was scrapped on the basis of a consultant’s report. I can only assume that those responsible had no imagination and little idea of the benefits of the trolley bus.
It is the most civilised form of urban transport in existence. It combines the manoeuvrability of the diesel-powered bus with the cleanliness and quietness of the electric tram.
It is much cheaper to install trolley buses than a tramway system and far less disruptive.
Most major cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland use trolley buses on certain key routes. Cross Gates to the ill-connected Leeds Bradford Airport via the city centre would be an ideal ‘launch route’. Time for a re-look. Dig out the plans, blow off the dust and ask ‘why not’?
High quality public transport greatly reduces the need for people to use their cars. Combine this with improved car-parking at suburban stations, and environmentally-polluting city centre road congestion eases.
It is a fact that the inhabitants of cities in Switzerland, with their enviable public transport systems, combine the highest standards of living with the lowest levels of car ownership and use in Europe.
Take note, Prime Minister, and act.
Sir Andrew Cook is a Yorkshire industrialist and chairman of William Cook Holdings, which includes William Cook Rail.