Northern Rail - why Barnsley deserves better

Like many people in Barnsley, I rely on public transport to get to and from work each day.

And, also like many people in Barnsley, I have been increasingly concerned and frustrated in recent weeks by the mounting chaos that is our rail service.

Our communities want better, deserve better, and need better. The situation we see at railway platforms across our region and the wider North every day is simply not good enough.

That's why swift and decisive action needs to be taken by Government. The Secretary of State needs to take the lead in finding real, workable solutions to tackle the issues head-on.

But we also need more than short-term solutions. It is crucial that there is a significant increase in investment in northern transport infrastructure over the coming years, so we don't see our trains stopped in their tracks once again.

Good rail services are crucial. People need reliable trains so that they can get to work on time, take their children to school, and access essential facilities that keep our communities functioning.

People missing important appointments or being late for work due to persistently late-running or cancelled trains is something that should not be happening in 2018.

It seems ludicrous that we have the technology here in Sheffield City Region to be manufacturing cutting-edge aerospace components, yet these engineers can't reliably get to work because our public transport system can't run according to the timetable.

These failures in the transport system limit the flow of ideas, people and business between our urban areas and major employment sites. It is a drag on our productivity, competitiveness and a waste of the talent and skills of our workforce. 

We cannot sit back and accept chaos on our railways. It's indisputable that existing problems at Northern Rail became distinctly worse following timetable changes introduced last month.

A perfect storm of too few drivers trained on the available routes, delays to planned electrification and years of underinvestment led to the disarray we're now seeing across the North.

The problems are complex. But they are not insurmountable. It is, for example, clear that stark inequalities that exist between the transport infrastructure of different regions of our country have contributed to this chaos.

Figures show just how wide the inequality between London and the North has become. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, analysis of investment over the past 10 years shows that London received £680 per head on average each year while the North got just £282 per head.

If the North had received the same level of funding as London, we would have had an additional £59bn to spend in the last decade.

I've long raised concerns about our transport system as Barnsley MP, and in my new position as Mayor of the Sheffield City Region I'll be relentless in putting pressure on Government to give us the investment in public transport that we need.

I'm taking the lead on transport for the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, will soon become a Transport for the North Board Member, and have submitted a bid for millions of pounds in transport funding to the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund. This money will be spent on active travel, public transport improvements and relieving congestion on key road routes.

But we need action now. And that's why I'm calling on the Secretary of State to take the lead, show us he's serious about helping people in Barnsley, and demonstrate some solutions - before we lose even more time, money and patience.

This article was first published in The Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 15 June.

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