What Labour will do to get North’s railways back on track – Rachael Maskell

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WHEN it comes to the reopening of the Colne to Skipton line, we are talking about just 12 miles of railway. Investment in this piece of infrastructure could be transformative for the North; that is why Labour has committed to that as part of our rail enhancement programme.

And if we win the general election, we will be eager to press ahead with this scheme, which is about rebalancing the economy. It will not only provide crucial opportunities to transport passengers and goods, but transform our economy and the opportunities for people in constituencies along the route.

Shadow Rail Minister Rachael Maskell has set out Labour's vision for railways in the North.

Shadow Rail Minister Rachael Maskell has set out Labour's vision for railways in the North.

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When I have discussed this with Transport for the North, it has stressed the importance of improving the trans-Pennine route, to which, I regret ​to say, the Government has not given the necessary enhancement for freight passage, which is important for establishing an east-west connection.

The Skipton-Colne line — the west-east line — will complete the circle, ensuring that we get proper transportation.

York Central MP Rachael Maskell is the Shadow Rail Minister.

York Central MP Rachael Maskell is the Shadow Rail Minister.

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I have spoken to businesses in the North, particularly Drax, which would benefit greatly. It says that the line would not only bring about improvements in the transportation of biomass along the trans-Atlantic route to Liverpool, but improve the resilience of the infrastructure.

Drax also depends on Immingham port, but we know that there are flooding risks there, so to secure our energy supply, we need to ensure there is an opportunity in the east and the west.

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Chris Grayling begahn a review into the reopening of the Colne to Skipton link when Transport Secretary.

Chris Grayling begahn a review into the reopening of the Colne to Skipton link when Transport Secretary.

At the moment, if biomass travels around our country, it either goes south, via Birmingham, or further north. These 12 miles of connectivity would make such a difference to Drax, which receives around 24 consignments each day. There would be the opportunity for storage of additional biomass along the line, which would build up the resilience of our energy sector, so this is an important project for us.

If the trans-Pennine route had a full upgrade, it would deliver for not only freight but passengers. Reliability is no longer a consideration for this Government, but it absolutely would be for Labour. Labour committed to electrification, and then the Government did, too; but then they withdraw that offer.

This is a crucial project. We can go further than that: if we get freight connectivity right, we can reinvest and make the Northern Powerhouse actually happen, because this is about the wider economy in the north.

We need a modal shift for freight from roads to rail. Around a third of our carbon footprint is in the transport sector. The Government has not made the necessary progress on that.

Drax power station could benefit from the reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway.

Drax power station could benefit from the reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway.

We believe that modal shift will be a game changer. In the transport sector, we need a 15 per cent reduction of our carbon expenditure, year on year, for the next 10 years. The shift from road to rail, not only for passengers, but particularly for goods, will make a big difference.

We want to open up opportunities. Labour is putting forward a smart logistics strategy that not only connects industry to the rail freight sector, but opens up more opportunities for light freight and the accompanying development of rolling stock.

Of course, Labour’s plan, which, we must remind ourselves, will bring rail back into public ownership, so that the public have real control over our network, but we have a genuine opportunity here to invest in freight.

If we have strong freight paths, manufacturing can become more reliant on just-in-time manufacturing processes, smart logistics, as I have highlighted, and the movement of goods on our railways.

It is vital that that economic opportunity is brought to the North. The whole Northern Powerhouse investment in rail, including the trans-Pennine rail route upgrade and investment in the Skipton-Colne route, could bring around 850,000 good-quality jobs to the North. We Labour MPs understand the value of that; it is in the title of our party.

We also want the development of new passenger routes. We need to make sure that new housing developments are connected to our main infrastructure. We want better connectivity in planning across the country, to ensure that all investments, including in the economy and in housing, are linked to our rail network. We would then have a strong passenger offer and a strong goods offer; our infrastructure investment will deliver both those things.

We are talking about just £360m for this project and the opportunities that it will bring. I can commit today to Labour being right behind local MPs and all the rail campaign groups, as well as the local councillors, who have done so much work over the years to support projects such as this.

Rachael Maskell is the York Central MP and Shadow Rail Minister. She spoke in a Parliamentary debate – this is an edited version.