Northern powerhouse rail revolution ‘must benefit big businesses AND commuters’

Transport for the North’s planned rail revolution must be good for commuters as well as big business, according to Manchester MPs.

Greater Manchester is one of the city regions set to be involved in the creation of a ‘northern powerhouse’, following the first meeting of representatives of the five big northern cities on Monday.

These representatives form the new Transport for the Nother (TfN) alliance, which will act to plan a region-wide network.

Some of the proposals for TfN include more trains, quicker journey times and a high-speed East-West railway that links Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and Newcastle. It will also look at roads, ports, airports and broadband.

Politicians across Greater Manchester were keen to highlight that while new high speed rail networks are important for the North’s economy, any plans must benefit everyday commuters too.

David Crausby, Labour MP for Bolton North East, criticised the government in December for not dealing with train overcrowding issues on the Manchester-Bolton route.

CONNECTING COMMUNITIES: MP Julie Hilling believes connectivity is as vital as speed for rail networks (Courtesy of LadyGeekTV, with thanks)

Today, Mr Crausby told MM that any proposals made by the new committee should prioritise cross-country travel in the region, and that further investment in the North would benefit everyone in the country.

He said: “I think that investment in transport in the north is absolutely essential to every aspect of northern life. Not just big business, but the economy itself.

“And the reality is we just have not spent enough money on it. Whilst the High Speed 2 is very important, what is in my view much more important is cross-country links in the north of England.

“I hope it [TfN] is a serious proposal, because I think that the success of the economy in the North is crucial to the economy of the South, and the nation as a whole.

“The strength of the argument is important, and that is if you do not revitalise the economy of the North and return to some industrial base, then the whole country will suffer.

“It is vitally important that we improve the transport links for commuters, but it is also important that we improve the links for goods and services across the North as well.

“I don’t think it is an either/or thing for the North. It’s certainly never an either/or thing for the South.

“There is no question of whether you do High Speed 2 connecting London to the North, or Crossrail. They get both. And I think we are entitled to both too.”

Mr Crausby also reiterated his stance on public transport, saying any plans for the region should ensure commuters can enjoy a comfortable journey to and from work.

He added: “I would just like for the people in my constituency to be able to sit down on the train on the way to work and home again between Bolton and Manchester.

“I think that some of the standards that working people have to put up with as far as travel is concerned are outrageous in the north of England when compared to London, and we just have to recognise that people are bound to have to travel to work a great deal more than they used to do.

“Gone are the days when you walked down to the cotton mill. My constituents have to pick up whatever job opportunities they can, and that often means travelling to Manchester.”

Julie Hilling, MP for Bolton West, and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rail in the North, also believes connectivity is as much of a priority as speed for rail networks.

She said: “I think a lot is going to depend on the shape of the Northern and TransPennine franchises, because what goes into those is going to decide what sort of service we get on a daily basis in all of our communities.

“And it is really vital that those services reflect our needs and that within those franchises is new rolling stock and better connectivity.

“The most important thing for us all is connecting our communities and coast-to-coast connectivity. It is crazy that it is much quicker to drive to Leeds at the moment than it is to catch a train, so clearly something has to be done about that.”

Mrs Hilling also said that funding for TfN has to be a long-term commitment for the government.

She added: “I think that is one of the major problems with all of the transport plans, because unless the government actually funds them we are effectively snookered.

“It is not just decision making, you have to have money. And I think one of the things Rail North is very clear about is that if there are big cuts and we have no money, then there is no point having the power either.

MAKING VISION A REALITY: Sir Richard Leese says TfN is the infrastructure needed to generate growth (Courtesy of Aplified Group, with thanks)

“The government has invested in rail, but the jury is out on whether they will prioritise High Speed 3 above Cross Rail 2, and if we don’t have a very strong voice for the North it will just disappear.

“We get far less spending per capita in the North than they do in London on transport, so we must keep the pressure on the government.”

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and the leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese told regional leaders in the north to unite with ‘one voice’ to ensure government decisions benefit the region.

Mr Leese said: “Economic growth doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by design and having the right integrated infrastructure in place is vital for us to generate that growth.

“Transport for the North is now charged with drawing up a bold delivery programme to make that vision real in the next 15 years.”

A joint interim report will be produced in March 2015 to further outline the future of TfN.

Main image courtesy of Mikey and Friends of the Earth, with thanks.

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