IT will be of little surprise to rail passengers in Yorkshire that Pacer trains, which should have been consigned to a transport museum long ago, will continue to run in our region well into 2020. That’s despite promises from Northern that these old buses on rails would be phased out by the end of the year.
Here in Yorkshire and across the North, we are sadly used to being treated like second-class citizens when it comes to rail investment. The retention of Pacers – which are cold, slow and noisy – are a further blow for commuters, especially those who use the Hope Valley Line between Sheffield and Greater Manchester.
Commuters on that line have already learned that improvement works to boost capacity have been delayed – to the point where these works should have already finished, and yet still they haven’t started.
This is simply not good enough, particularly as the improvements are a pre-requisite for Northern Powerhouse Rail improvements to accelerate journey times.
Put together, these pieces of news make for a pretty bleak picture, and also serve as a stark reminder of the widening gulf between transport spend in the North and in the South East.
While the South East is seeing more then £17bn invested in Crossrail, commuters in the North are enduring train services that are late, overcrowded and expensive.
Over the last five years, transport spending has risen by twice as much per person in London as in the North – and the results are clear to see.
What we want and need is simple; a rail system that’s fit for the 21st century. It is only by improving journey times, capacity, affordability and quality of rail services that we can fully realise the enormous potential of Yorkshire and the wider North.
And while the Prime Minister has visited the North and made promises to improve our transport network, such as at the Convention of the North last month, we need to see deeds – not words.
That’s why I met with the Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, last week to press the importance of upgrading the Hope Valley Line on schedule, and also to underline the importance of delivering both the western and eastern legs of HS2.
Making our rail network fit for the 21st century does not rely on one single infrastructure project.
But HS2 is a fundamental part of achieving the rail connectivity that people in Yorkshire deserve and need – which is why I’m concerned at recent rumours that the eastern leg of the project may be scrapped.
Here in the Sheffield City Region, where I serve as mayor, our ambition for future investment includes HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, but also includes projects such as extensions to the Tram-Train and Supertram networks, an East Coast Main Line station at Doncaster Sheffield Airport, the Masterplan for Sheffield Midland railway station and the new proposed Dearne Valley Parkway station.
By prioritising transport, the lifeblood of our economy, we can build stronger, better-connected places for people from all communities.
Goldthorpe, in the Dearne Valley, is a perfect example. Our proposed new railway station will bring both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse services to this former pit village still recovering from the impact of deindustrialisation.
With journey times of 15 minutes to Leeds, 12 minutes to Sheffield, 20 minutes to York and just 95 minutes to London Euston, the Barnsley Dearne Valley station could breathe life back in to a part of South Yorkshire that is crying out for regeneration.
I believe social mobility can be accelerated by driving practical mobility. And these plans for Goldthorpe are just part of the Sheffield City Region Integrated Rail Plan, which demonstrates what can be achieved when politicians, authorities and the private sector work together with communities on a common aim.
This plan is the first time that local authorities and regional partners such as Transport for the North have come together to outline our collective ambition to Government. That’s why we need Government to back these proposals not with warm words, but with truly transformative levels of investment.
When Yorkshire and the North prospers, the whole country prospers.
It’s time for Government to rebalance transport spending, give us the resources we need and enable us as Yorkshire leaders to get on with doing what we do best – delivering for our region.
Dan Jarvis is the mayor of Sheffield City Region and Labour MP for Barnsley Central.