Government plans for rail criticised

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin responds to claims by Transport Secretary that rail investment is "on the right track".

19 January 2022

The North has been badly let down by the Government's Integrated Rail Plan.

The Secretary of State’s recent piece in the Yorkshire Post was extraordinary.

His government made promise after promise about how they would deliver a new rail line between Leeds and Manchester, making commitment after commitment about full delivery of HS2. Objecting to their watered-down plans that don’t serve the best interests of our communities is far from irrational.

As Mayors we’re standing up for our regions, standing up for the people we represent. We are their voice. The plans put forward by Transport for the North were developed by Northern leaders and officials who all experience our creaking rail infrastructure day in, day out. We share the challenges and frustrations of fellow passengers. As a result, we know precisely what our communities need, for now and the long term. The tone of the Secretary of State’s article was incredibly disrespectful to legitimate critique of government policy. 

It is true that a new high-speed line between Leeds and Manchester, with a stop in Bradford, would have created some disruption for those cities. But I know that people who live and work in Bradford wouldn’t have minded this as it would have delivered a mainline station in the city for the first time, bringing jobs, businesses, and opportunities to the city in the long term. The government’s plan fails to deliver all of these benefits, which is why people in West Yorkshire are so angry and frustrated with the decisions that have been made.

Victorian infrastructure

The claims that have been made to “double or even treble capacity on many key routes” is a bold one. Many transport experts are sceptical about whether this is possible under the government’s plans. Putting fast inter-city connections alongside stopping services on upgraded Victorian infrastructure is unlikely to achieve what has been claimed. To achieve some of the stated journey times between Leeds and Manchester or Leeds and Bradford, some think that this could lead to a reduction in services in towns like Dewsbury, Batley and Pudsey.

What’s disappointing is that we’re not able to scrutinise the evidence base to back up the Secretary of State’s claims. I’ve written to him to ask that the evidence is made public, to allow us all proper scrutiny, and allow the people in the North to see how they stack up.

None of us want to see a re-run of the 2018 fiasco, where extra services and improved times were promised, but the infrastructure simply could not cope.

Tracy Brabin Mayor of West Yorkshire

The Integrated Rail Plan left several issues unresolved.

The Integrated Rail Plan left several issues unresolved. How to get high speed trains into Leeds from the Midlands is subject to yet another round of expensive investigation. We know that in order to do this without impacting other services, a new station will be needed, and will continue to make the case for this and the additional capacity a new line would bring. We’re keen to make sure this review happens quickly, and have proposed a way forward which would involve local government, the railway sector and Whitehall officials.

The TransPennine Route Upgrade – which has been promised for more than a decade – will bring benefits to towns and communities along the line. But we need to work with government, with Network Rail, with the operators, to limit the disruption that this will cause, and ensure that rail users are not left with skeleton services while work is completed. The Secretary of State sought to minimise legitimate concerns about this in his piece yesterday, but I will ensure he fully understands what is at stake. We cannot afford to get this wrong.

For our economy, health and environment

I will not stop making the case for a new line between Leeds and Manchester, with a stop in Bradford. It is too important to our region, too important to our future, to simply let this go. It is wrong to say that a new line would not provide value for money for the taxpayer. Yes, it would require more resources, but what about the impact that would have more broadly on our local, regional and national economy? On health and well-being locally? On access to opportunity? On air quality? On the environment? It seems to me that these issues weren’t properly considered.

Infrastructure investment decisions leave a legacy that will last a century or more, far beyond the political cycles Ministers too often work in. I’m fully aware that the decisions I and my fellow leaders in West Yorkshire will make about Mass Transit over the coming years will have a lasting impact on the region far beyond my electoral term.

This is the ultimate tragedy of the Integrated Rail Plan. The decisions made by the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the Treasury will long outlast him. With the febrile atmosphere in Westminster these last few days, there’s every chance that his government will not see out the next few months, and we’ll have another Secretary of State, another Chancellor, and another Prime Minister. But what won’t change is the needs of our region, the needs of our people. I represent the people of West Yorkshire and will always stand up for them and will never apologise for doing so, whoever is in government.

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