We saw at the start of last week an announcement of an additional £1.5m for a feasibility study into the reopening of the Newcastle to Ashington line. I had reserved judgement about the Government’s new ‘pro North East’ language but I feel the sum promised is pocket money compared to the millions required to rebuild stations, source rolling stock and bring the track up to modern standards.
Let’s not beat about the bush, there is a real link between lack of transport infrastructure and a person's ability to get on in life.
It’s simple really: If you live close to good public transport links, you’re more likely to be able to get to a well-paying job or get new customers for your start-up business.
That’s why Rail nationalisation is so important because it links a person's ability to get on in life with a need for vital infrastructure investment. It's why the upcoming ‘nationalisation’ of Northern Rail should come with a health warning.
If nationalisation is followed by the creation of a fragmented network run by devolved institutions, we face the risk of simply shifting blame from one group of politicians to another group without addressing the real issue of poor infrastructure.
I would like to see us get to grips with the following challenges to solve the infrastructure issues:
Electrify lines from Bishop Auckland to Darlington and then from Middlesbrough to Sunderland. As well as looking again at electrifying the Newcastle to Carlisle route.
Expand the Tyne and Wear Metro with a focus on projects which will deliver much needed boosts to local business rates, such as a long overdue expansion to Cobalt business park.
Make sure railway procurement focuses on buying local, the old excuses around European Law as of this week no longer apply.
Ultimately, I believe there is no silver bullet for the problems the Railways and our suburban transport networks face but I do think the Government have an opportunity to follow up on their recent rhetoric by investing real money in the regions infrastructure and transport network.
They have two choices, either spend the money centrally or devolve responsibility and give regional and local government the ability to finance long overdue improvements.
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