Courier Column 29/09/17
It’s been clear for a long time now that our rail services are in desperate need of investment. The frequent delays, overcrowding and outdated trains are all evidence of the need for change.
The Conservative Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is certainly aware of the situation. During his whistle-stop visit to Sowerby Bridge railway station during the general election campaign he repeated the promise that our local rail services would be modernised and electrified. However, fast forward three months and you will now see the Government arguing that full electrification might not be feasible, even while the hugely expensive Crossrail 2 in London is getting the green light.
Those who live and work here know that our transport infrastructure has been ignored for too long. There is a clear cross-party consensus in Yorkshire, and amongst councillors in Calderdale, that electrification should be a top priority and that Central Government funding is the only way to achieve this.
The benefits of electric trains are clear; they are faster and more reliable than the diesel trains we currently have on the line. They would be less polluting, quieter and provide a first impression that we can be proud of to business travellers and tourists coming by rail.
Electrifying links on the main trans-Pennine line from Liverpool and Manchester to Leeds, and on the Calder Valley Line, would also benefit our regional economy. It would be possible to live in Halifax and look for jobs in Manchester, Liverpool, Chester or beyond knowing that you’d be able to commute in comfort and arrive on time. Businesses here could recruit from a wider pool of workers making Halifax a more attractive place to start or relocate a firm.
It would also help increase tourism, building on the success of recent developments. The exciting new ‘cultural quarter’ including the Piece Hall, the newly-built library and extended Square Chapel will attract many more people to our town and it would be great if they could travel here using a modern transport system.
A recent report found that more than half of the UK’s total spending on transport networks is invested in London. While on average every person in Yorkshire and the Humber receives the equivalent of £190, they found the figure for London was £1,943 per head. This is the reason why talk of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was so welcome; it seemed to signal a recognition of how unbalanced our country has become between London and everywhere else, and a desire to address this.
So, I will continue to make the case in Westminster for improved rail services and more generally for increased investment in the North. It’s time the Government delivered on its promises to voters and committed to supporting our region.