The fast track to Yorkshire

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IT is a measure of how public, and political, opinion has changed that a high-speed rail network will almost certainly form the centrepiece to future transport policy in Britain.

Two years ago, it was a non-starter. Now it has Cabinet backing – with Ministers also committed to extending the proposed London to Birmingham route to Sheffield and Leeds at the earliest opportunity.

And the very fact that politicians from all parties have had to consider the economic interest of the whole country is testament to the success of this newspaper’s Fast Track to Yorkshire campaign – and all those who maintained the pressure on Whitehall as various Transport Secretaries came and went.

This momentum has also been crucial in reminding the Government that its transport obligations extend to the whole country, and not just London and the South East.

Of course, it remains to be seen when the link to Yorkshire will be built and the precise route – details are not expected to be published until a major consultation exercise begins later this year.

There is also the small matter of funding, though this should also be seen in the context of the investment potential that is lost to Yorkshire, and elsewhere, if HS2 does not come to fruition over the next decades.

And then, of course, there is the future of local services in the meantime and ensuring that these routes receive the necessary investment so they are commensurate with 21st century expectations.

However, as a landmark report concluded last week, a new high-speed network remains the most viable way of increasing capacity on every major railway route, and this assessment extends to both the Midland Main Line and East Coast Main Line. That is key. The current railway network, both locally and nationally, already suffers from acute overcrowding – and that will only intensify if projections on future passenger numbers are accurate.

And, while the Government risks being sidetracked by acrimony in the Home Counties following this momentous decision on HS2, it should be congratulated for having the determination and vision to press ahead with a plan that will, hopefully, signal the belated dawn of a new railway age.