2018 will be the year the travelling public start to see the benefits of West Yorkshire and other northern regions working together as one on transport policy, according to a senior figure responsible for drawing a strategy for the North.
A strategic transport plan for the North, setting out the £60bn worth of spending needed over the next three decades, will be unveiled next month after being agreed by the region’s 19 transport authorities.
Transport for the North will become the first strategic body of its type on April 1, meaning the Government will have to take its views into account when deciding where it allocates vital infrastructure funding.
Jonathan Spruce, TfN’s Interim Strategy Director, said passengers in Yorkshire would also start to see benefits on the ground. Among the improvements will be the introduction of smart technology on rail season tickets across the region, meaning commuters will get a smart card rather than a paper ticket when they renew.
Rail operators have also promised a number of tangible improvements. Perhaps the most eye-catching will be the 65 Azuma trains which will enter service at the start of the December timetable on the East Coast Mainline, which stops at Leeds between London and Edinburgh.
As part of the roll-out the new train, which reaches 125pm in less than five minutes, will stop at new destinations including Middlesbrough and will regularly go between London and Leeds in two hours.
Inter-city services around the region will also benefit from new rolling stock. Northern, which runs rail services around West Yorkshire and has pledged to get rid of its much-maligned Pacer trains by 2020, will next year introduce the first of its 98 new trains as part of a modernisation programme.
They will be capable of travelling at 100mph, will be fully air conditioned, have electronic seat reservation systems, CCTV, power sockets and free wifi.
The firm is refurbishing 240 of its older trains and introducing new and more frequent services, as well as launching Northern Connect, a “fast inter-urban network” in December.
TransPennine Express will in the second half of 2018 be rolling out the first of its 220 state-of-the-art intercity train carriages which will reach speeds of up to 140mph and cut journey times. There will be more frequent services, including six trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester.
‘THE TALKING WILL HAVE TO STOP’
Ministers have faced criticism over the disparity in transport spending between the North and London.
Ed Cox, director of think-tank IPPR North, said: “The Department for Transport never believed northern leaders could come up with a mutually agreed transport strategy for the North.
“They were wrong. In 2018 I expect we’ll see transformational projects ready for investment and at that point the talking and excuses will have to stop and government will have to put its money where its mouth is.”