BETTER LATE than never. That will be the reaction of many passengers as the first Azuma train – utilising Japanese bullet train technology – starts operating on the East Coast Main Line between Leeds and King’s Cross.
The first major upgrade in rolling stock for 30 years, its introduction on the LNER route is emblematic of the state of the railways in this region. The new fleet is behind schedule and the full technological benefits cannot be utilised north of York because the trains are not totally compatible with signalling equipment.
Nevertheless, these smoother and slicker services, which will use bi-mode technology to improve reliability, are a vote of confidence in a major railway line which has witnessed a high turnover of private and public operators in recent years.
What this route needs now, more than ever, is a period of stability before either a new Transport Secretary, or Government, is in place to start planning for the future and determining the best operating model for this key route which links Yorkshire with both the capital and Scotland.
And while some Tory leadership candidates, and their supporters, are pressing for HS2 to be scrapped because of the potential of existing routes, they need to remember that the East Coast Main Line is already operating at capacity.
As such, they would be wise to heed Sir John Armitt, the chair of the independent National Infrastructure Commission, who says in The Yorkshire Post today that HS2 “has the potential to transform the country’s connectivity” and is fundamental to Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Infrastructure investment requires long-term decision-making and commitment by national leaders – it is too important to be left to the whims of those who aspire to lead as they lobby those Tory activists, a tiny proportion of the overall electorate, who, in all likelihood, will determine the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister.