High speed routes are welcome but small, practical efforts can also boost train travel and revitalise communitiesby Rachel Reeves / September 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
When Boris Johnson promised to fund “Northern Powerhouse Rail,” I took his pledge with a large pinch of salt. While a new TransPennine rail route may be necessary, is it sufficient to address the needs of communities like the one I represent in Leeds?
Three years ago, Leeds got its first new train station in 30 years, at Kirkstall Forge. Part funded by a commercial property developer and part by Leeds city council, the station exceeded its forecast number of commuters for a year in just four months. It is an example of how small, practical steps to increase rail travel and get people out of their cars can work—and help to regenerate communities.
Yet there isn’t nearly enough investment in new train stations. People in my constituency in Armley would love a train station on an existing line through their community. The stations we do have are in desperate need of modernisation—CCTV, adequate lighting, proper disabled access and seating on platforms are just a few of the basics that are too often missing. Perhaps most of all, across Yorkshire, the indignity of having to travel by Pacer trains continues (for those of you lucky enough not to know what I’m talking about, they are buses reconfigured into trains, and have been phased out around the world—most recently in Iran). The date for their scrappage has been put back once again. The quality of train travel—frequency, reliability, getting a seat and the condition of the trains—matters enormously.
Successive Tory governments have realised the electoral importance of paying lip service to “just-about-managing” parts of Britain. But they have done little to redress the gap between London and the southeast and the rest of the country. This is especially true when it comes to transport. There are different ways of analysing the figures, but new research by IPPR North shows that, over the past decade, average annual public spending on transport totalled £739 per head in London, compared to just £305 per head in the north. Meanwhile, it shows that planned transport spending for London is seven times more per capita than for the northeast, or Yorkshire and the Humber.
New developments are often promised but rarely funded. The PM’s announcement in Manchester was yet another example of this. New high speed lines should be welcomed if they’re delivered. But it is also small, practical efforts that can boost train travel, revitalise communities and improve quality of life. I have no doubt that with more devolution and local democracy these types of schemes would be prioritised. Instead what we get from Westminster is the occasional visit of a minister, a grand announcement and then silence.
Let’s devolve power and get people out of their cars and on to trains, to help boost northern towns and cities.