The West Yorkshire Transport Consultation aims to put Yorkshire back on track. Stewart Arnold, Leader of the Yorkshire Party, responds.
While I have focused on issues in West Yorkshire, since that is the scope of the consultation and the Combined Authority, I have included some comments on adjacent regions, since they affect West Yorkshire’s connectivity. I have focused on rail, since it is the best option for taking cars off the road and therefore helping bus services and remaining car users.
An inadequate transport network
West Yorkshire, and the whole of Yorkshire and the North, suffers from under-investment in transport. Whilst per head infrastructure spending in London and the South-East on transport is £5426, in Yorkshire it’s just £581 (IPPR North report 2014). And you get what you pay for. Whilst the South-east has benefitted from new trains, new lines and station modernisation, Yorkshire struggles on with out-dated and inadequate trains and poor quality station infrastructure. Yorkshire and the North need a modern, expanding rail network that is fully integrated with all forms of transport. It’s vital for how we live – getting to work, education and leisure – and is essential for a growing economy. Growth follows investment as London clearly shows. A long term plan connecting both within and outside of our region could be the catalyst for a stronger Yorkshire that drives a UK that works for all parts and regions. Recent announcements on rail electrification are welcome but we want to see a clear timetable and funding for these projects, with schemes that are already committed but seriously delayed (e.g. TransPennine route) being given greater priority.
Why invest in rail?
It’s about more than getting from A to B, quickly and safely. Investment in rail must be based around clear criteria that will benefit the region as whole. Our key objectives are:
• Promote sustainable economic growth across Yorkshire
• Reduce global warming by transferring people and goods from road to rail
• Improve community cohesion by better access to jobs, education and services
Is High-Speed Rail the answer?
We’d say it’s only part of the answer and we need investment that brings results in the next five years as well as the longer term. The original proposals for HS2, from London to Leeds and Manchester, were badly thought through. The idea of a new high-speed terminus at Leeds, at right-angles to the main station with a long walk from one to the other, was particularly ill-considered. We recognise that capacity on existing north-south routes is a problem and the case for a new route is strong. But it must be far better linked in to the existing rail network. The pre-election proposal for a ‘HS3’ linking Merseyside with Manchester, Leeds and the east coast makes sense – with the same caveats. We would say that HS3 is much more important than the London-centric HS2 proposal which offers greater economic and environmental benefits to the North of England. We would like to see a new route running east to west, using the former Woodhead Tunnel under the Pennines – offering speed and capacity and forming part of a high-speed route via Sheffield to the south. Put simply – high-speed trains from Manchester to Leeds would use the re-opened tunnel and then head north to Leeds, with another route branching southwards via Sheffield to Birmingham and London. This ‘triangular’ junction would allow high-speed trains from the south via Sheffield to reach Leeds and continue northwards to Tees-side, Newcastle and Scotland.
Our InterCity services
West Yorkshire has good InterCity connections to London already and plans for future high-speed rail must not leave cities and towns like Wakefield, York, Doncaster and Bradford at a disadvantage. The new franchise for East Coast should continue to develop with steady improvement in journey times, new trains and new destinations. Where other operators are providing useful services, e.g. Grand Central from Bradford and Halifax and Tees Valley, and Hull Trains from Hull and Brough – they should be encouraged to expand and provide additional services where there is a demand. Possible new destinations include Huddersfield and Dewsbury. At the moment, the Government seems to do everything it can to discourage this positive example of private enterprise.
Connecting the North
It’s vital that West Yorkshire has good links with other parts of the North. The key Trans-Pennine corridor was supposed to be electrified by the end of 2018, in yet another pre-election Government announcement. Industry insiders say that it is more likely to happen in 2021 which is totally unacceptable. I believe, and the Yorkshire Party believes, that TransPennine electrification is an urgent necessity and should be given top priority, with new and faster trains alongside an improved local service. The Calder Valley route, linking Leeds, Bradford and Halifax with Rochdale and Manchester, should be electrified at the same time, to allow an alternative diversionary route across the Pennines and meet rising demand for inter-regional travel.
Other routes which need to be on a rolling programme for electrification include Manchester to Sheffield and Doncaster via Hope Valley; all of the West Yorkshire local rail network; Northallerton to Middlesbrough, Doncaster to Grimsby/Cleethorpes and York to Scarborough. The current ‘stop-start’ approach to rail electrification increases costs and limits the benefits of network electrification. Network Rail must be given the resources to get on with the job – a job that should have started years ago.
The Beeching cuts of the 1960s left many parts of Yorkshire without a rail service. Whilst Scotland has re-opened several routes, not a single closure in Yorkshire has been reversed. Some of those cuts should be reversed to help form a viable network across Yorkshire and the North. Our priorities would be:
• Skipton to Colne (allowing a new electric service from Leeds via Skipton to East Lancashire and Preston)
• Manchester to Sheffield via Woodhead (high-speed and intercity, with freight at night)
• Malton to Pickering (allowing direct trains from York via Pickering to Whitby, including both modern services and heritage steam operations)
• York to Beverley and Hull via Pocklington and Market Weighton
• A new link to Otley and Pool via Menston continuing to Arthington (with a new Arthington Station) and back to Leeds: ‘The Otley Loop’
• Bradford Cross-Rail (see below re use of ‘tram-trains’)
• Harrogate to Ripon and Northerallerton
A crucial ‘missing link’ is a rail service for Leeds/Bradford Airport. This issue is dealt with in a separate section.
In addition, the existing freight route from Wakefield via Castleford to York should have a new passenger service, ideally linking the North-West with the East Coast.
There is strong demand for new stations to serve many locations across Yorkshire on existing lines. As part of a clear strategy to develop our railways more station openings should be explored to increase connectivity across Yorkshire. In addition to stations already going ahead (Kirkstall and Apperley Bridge), we would add Haxby and Strensall (York), Golcar/Milnsbridge (Huddersfield), Elland (Calderdale), Lightcliffe/Hipperholme (Calderdale). Guiseley Silverdale, Horsforth Woodside and Arthington. Such stations could provide park-and-facilities, taking cars off the road and therefore helping bus services and remaining car users.
Leeds-Bradford Airport Rail, Not Road.
The proposed road (routes A and B) would serve just 5% of airport customers, according to Rawdon Parish Council’s traffic survey, published in local media. At £50-75m, they are poor value for money. They also do not bypass the worst congestion, which is further towards Leeds city centre. Route C would only serve 5% of customers for its entire length (19% for part of its length) and it would be impractical and undesirable to impinge on private property to widen the A65 and A658 and put a major road through the village of Rawdon and past Benton Park Secondary School.
A new railway station on the Harrogate Line, with an airport shuttle-bus, would serve the airport better and involve less loss of greenbelt. Indeed, a new road may lead to 1000s of greenbelt houses, actually increasing congestion. A rail stop could also serve as a park-and-ride, reducing congestion. The cost would be around £15m, much less than a road across greenbelt.
Trams are returning to the UK and Sheffield already has a great network. Proven technology exists for trams to run on conventional railways and we want to see this approach extended to both Leeds and South Yorkshire (where it is being planned). This would allow (for example) a tram-train to use the existing railway from Harrogate into Leeds and then divert to run ‘on street’ to serve the heart of the city centre.
It could also be a way of solving Bradford’s disconnected rail network, linking Forster Square with Bradford Interchange and allowing tram-trains to operate from Leeds via Shipley and Bradford to Halifax.
An expanding rail network needs new rolling stock. As more lines are electrified the need for diesel trains will diminish – though not entirely. The ageing and inadequate ‘Pacer’ trains have no future in a modern rail network and should be replaced as a matter of urgency by a combination of electric and modern diesel trains. Any new or refurbished train must meet demanding standards of passenger comfort and accessibility, with extra space for bikes and luggage. Furthermore, we want to see new trains built in the North of England, using Yorkshire suppliers, not imported from the Far East.
A better passenger experience
Passengers want trains that run to time where they can get a seat. We need to get the basics right and that involves investing in better infrastructure as well as modern rolling stock. Stations are an important, and much neglected, part of the journey. We want to see far better use made of stations, including smaller stations which may not currently have staff. Local businesses and social enterprises should be encouraged to provide retail facilities at smaller stations.
Existing staffed stations should offer a wider range of services, facilities and products. More should be done to encourage active community involvement at stations, helping create a warm and attractive environment that communities can be proud of.
Promote sustainable tourism
Rail should be at the heart of Yorkshire’s tourism strategy. We want more people to visit our county but we’d rather not have the extra traffic that comes with it. Rail should be the mode of choice for getting to the Dales, North Yorkshire Moors and Pennines, with a network of connecting bus services. Modern trains should be adapted as ‘tourist trains’ with more luggage and bike space and better views from the windows (as Scotland is currently doing). Currently, a lack rail services causes congestion to regions en route, including West Yorkshire.
We want to promote rail travel as a visitor experience in itself – promoting lines like Settle-Carlisle and Esk Valley, and working with the heritage railway sector, including the North York Moors Railway, Worth Valley Railway and National Railway Museum in York to market Yorkshire’s railway heritage. Stations in our national parks should be a focus of the local tourism industry with shops and cafes, bike hire and bus links to less accessible locations.
Freight should go by rail
We want to see much more freight being moved by rail. This needs investment in infrastructure, including new facilities for rail freight across the region. We would bring back grants to encourage businesses to transfer from road to rail, including more encouragement of road/rail technology. These grants would be awarded by a new Yorkshire Development Agency, working closely with the business community and accountable to a Yorkshire Parliament. More use of planning powers should be made to ensure that major industrial development is rail-connected.
Making rail affordable and accessible
Local rail travel, thanks to efforts of Metro and SYPTE, is good value for money in West (and South) Yorkshire but it is expensive to travel across boundaries and in other parts of the region. The current anomalies need sorting out with attractive local and longer distance fares across Yorkshire and the North.
Many stations in Yorkshire remain out of bounds for disabled people and parents with prams. We would set a target to make all stations fully accessible by 2025 (in many cases, sooner).
Achieving full integration
Rail is just one part of the transport mix. We want to ensure much better integration between bus and rail, with interchangeable tickets, good connectivity between bus and train at stations, and avoidance of duplication. Many people need to use their car to get to the station and ensuring there is enough car parking space is essential. We would encourage more walking and cycling to and from stations, with safe, well-signed and well-lit routes.
Sensible and sustaianable development
The link between rail and planning is of huge importance, but the links have become weaker instead of stronger over the last few years. There should be encouragement of development in station areas, for both housing and office development. Major developments not served by rail should pay for new facilities to be put in, based on developer contributions. The same goes for major industrial development – there should be a presumption that they would be rail-served.
Managing the network
At the moment, virtually all decisions about even local rail services are made by civil servants in London. That must change. The current ‘Rail North’ body must be given real power including control of the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchises. It should have resources to invest in an expanding rail network, in the new services, line re-openings, electrification and new trains that we desperately need. Instead of its being accountable to 30 local authorities, it should be governed by three regional parliaments for Yorkshire, the North-east and North-West.
Creating manufacturing jobs
Yorkshire has a great tradition of railway engineering which has all but disappeared. We say that new trains for Yorkshire and the North should be built here, not abroad. We have the skills to do it, and the impact on the economy would be enormous. We are fully in support of plans for the new High-Speed Rail Academy (but why just ‘high-speed’?) being based in Doncaster, but we want to see trains actually built once again in the town that gave us ‘Flying Scotsman’ and the ‘Mallard’.
We don’t think the current privatised system offers either value for money or quality to the passenger. We don’t want to go back to a monolithic state-owned railway with its headquarters in London. We support the idea of a ‘mixed economy’ with the private sector delivering longer distance open access services that fill important gaps in the network and a publicly-owned InterCity UK providing a balanced network of services across the country. Northern and TransPennine Express should be run as a single entity – Northern Railways - owned by the people of the Northern regions, as a mutual ‘co-operative’ railway. Within Northern Railways there should be three main types of service: Northern Express, Northern Commuter and Northern Community for local services in more rural areas.
Conclusion: time for the train!
West Yorkshire, and the whole of Yorkshire and the North, were early pioneers of rail transport and Leeds and Doncaster were great centres of railway engineering. It’s time for rail to play a much bigger part in our region’s economy. Let’s get Yorkshire back on track!