Column from Wednesday's Journal by Jonathan Walker, Assistant Director - Policy
As my loyal army of Twitter followers will no doubt be aware, I wrote this column on my way back to the North East from Manchester on the day the inquiry into rail disruption back in May released its findings.
Particularly timely, given the reason I’d been in Manchester was to discuss Transport for the North’s plans for infrastructure improvements.
By the time you read this, the various reasons for the issues that affected Northern and Thameslink services a few months ago will have been well and truly dissected and voices from all aspects of the political spectrum will have apportioned blame.
I’m not going to reprise any of those arguments here, apart from one.
While the introduction and management of new services could undoubtedly have been handled better, the whole fiasco once again demonstrated just how desperate the need is for investment in the rail network across the North.
There will be those who point out that the network is receiving its biggest investment since Victorian times.
There are also those who suggest this isn’t a difficult feat to achieve given that parts of the network don’t appear to have had much spent on them at all since the 19th century.
The truth is that businesses and passengers across the North of England have to cope with infrastructure far below the level we need and expect if we are to build a thriving, more productive northern economy.
Hearing TfN’s plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail gave me confidence that the North will soon be able to speak with a common voice about its priorities for the network.
We must not fall into the trap of saying these improvements will only benefit Manchester and Leeds, but instead ensure that decision makers are in no doubt about the needs of the North East and how investment in our issues will help to make the entirety of the network more efficient and reliable.
Improving capacity on the East Coast Main Line, station investments at Darlington, Middlesbrough and Newcastle (among others) and accelerating the introduction of new rolling stock are all well-established priorities for our region’s business community.
The anger generated by the disruption in May should leave Government, Network Rail and other interested parties in no doubt about the strength of feeling on this issue.
As the cliché goes, in every crisis there is also an opportunity. This is an opportunity to provide the people and businesses of the north with the rail network they deserve.