West Yorkshire transport bosses call for ‘urgent overhaul’ of rail infrastructure planning system

West Yorkshire Combined Authority has called for a change to the way rail improvements are planned.
West Yorkshire Combined Authority has called for a change to the way rail improvements are planned.
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The way much-needed improvements to the rail network are planned and delivered needs an urgent overhaul, according to Yorkshire transport bosses.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority has warned of “a growing disconnect” between planned improvements to rail infrastructure and service upgrades agreed as part of franchise agreements with operators.

It says delays suffered by projects designed to increase capacity on the network are having a knock-on effect on plans to introduce additional services.

And Keith Wakefield, who chairs the authority’s transport committee, said “uncertainty continues” over whether the promised improvements to train timetables across the region from May will be delivered in full.

Among the proposed changes are the introduction of an “express” service between Harrogate and Leeds, hourly trains between Selby and York and an earlier weekday morning service from Filey to Scarborough.

The concerns raised by the combined authority, which is responsible for drawing up a long- term transport strategy for West Yorkshire, are highlighted in a submission to the Commons Transport Committee’s inquiry into rail infrastructure investment.

The process for planning and implementing changes to the rail network is inflexible, centralised and process-heavy and is increasingly contradictory as it remains highly centralised while other powers over transport are devolved.

Keith Wakefield

MPs on the committee are looking into whether the system is adequate, ahead of a decision on the funding and priorities for Network Rail during the 2019-2024 “control period”. The combined authority argues that the current system of five-year control periods is too short and that clear commitments to fund and deliver improvements over the long term are needed to give confidence to the private sector to invest in projects.

It also sets out the case for reforming the evaluation process for transport projects, which currently disadvantages the North, by taking into account the wider regeneration benefits of any investment.

Coun Wakefield said: “More than three million journeys a week are made on the West Yorkshire public transport network and rail is essential in allowing people from across our communities to access jobs, education and services.

“Through the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises we have secured important improvements including additional services and longer, modern trains to cater for rising use of the rail network and help promote economic growth.

“However, we have also seen how the disconnect between rail infrastructure improvements and the negotiation of franchise agreements has led to delays in the delivery of promised improvements to services.

“Uncertainty continues over whether a number of timetable improvements expected in May will be delivered in full.

“The process for planning and implementing changes to the rail network is inflexible, centralised and process-heavy and is increasingly contradictory as it remains highly centralised while other powers over transport are devolved.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “This government is spending over £13bn through to 2020 to transform transport across the North – the biggest investment any government in history has ever made.

“The current system of five-year control periods ensures the right balance between planning certainty for industry and the supply chain and political accountability.

“By establishing Transport for the North, the North will have more influence than ever on the crucial decisions.”