The decision to cut local and regional rail services in favour of more routes to London is a betrayal of this government’s levelling up agenda and a perversion of this government’s stated intention to improve regional connectivity.
The Northern Echo reported “THE North-East is facing a near ‘disaster scenario’ with a new rail timetable that will see many vital services axed. Plans to increase the frequency of services between Teesside, Sunderland, and Newcastle have all been postponed.”
As we saw with the Northern Powerhouse promises, well crafted slogans that in practice do not translate into real meaningful changes for people living in East Durham.
After 11 years in government, our regional rail services are being cut by a Conservative Government, at a time when we still pay the highest train fares in Europe.
In the meantime, we experience failure on the Durham Coast Line serving the Easington constituency, with mainly two carriage, overcrowded trains often refusing to take on passengers at Horden and Seaham, particularly at peak times. This is unforgivable in normal times, but during a pandemic when social distancing is crucial, overcrowding is not only an inconvenient truth but a public health hazard.
We need investment. Real investment.
The divide is widening between London and the region, as investment, services and power is weighted towards the capital.
In our current situation, Labour needs to set out a clear alternative that will empower the regions to create an efficient inter-connected public transport system.
In the North East, the opportunity exists to upgrade and expand the Tyne and Wear Metro to create a North East Regional Rail network to support local connectivity. Alongside a publicly managed bus network, we could integrate regional transport through a single ticketing system similar to London’s Oyster Card system. Such an expansion would require millions in investment in our region, stimulating businesses, creating jobs, and delivering training opportunities that will strengthen our regional economy.
The remaining train network focus would be to connect our regions, with services to Edinburgh, London, Manchester and York, the hub to the national rail network.
The government are failing to meet their weakened climate commitments, and cleaning our transport emissions is a major challenge. However, an accessible, frequent and affordable North East Regional Rail, that is convenient, would take more people, and fossil fuels off the road and on to rail.
How will Labour pay for it?
This is the usual attack on Labour policy but is a question very rarely directed towards Ministers.
The money is available.
The government have shown that when there is the political will, there is no barrier to finance.
Whether it is £52 billion plus for High Speed Rail 2, that is hugely controversial and doesn’t go beyond Leeds; a “world beating” £38 billion Covid Track and Trace system that only world beating aspect is it’s failure to work, or the £20 billion for London’s cross rail, the issue is never money, it is political will and ambition.
We need a new vision for transport; new ideas to rebuild Britain. We have lived through struggle and hardship over the last 18 months, our time is fleeting and we have a choice whether we want to reshape our country for the better, for the many, or allow Etonian elites to maintain the status quo to profit the few at the expense of the majority of our citizens who deserve so much better.