Julian’s York Press Column: York’s Rail Opportunities
July 27, 2017
When I think of the beginning of the Railway Age I wonder just what the residents of York made of such a futuristic venture being assembled right through the middle of our great city. At a time where modes of transport were restricted to boat and horse drawn carriage, I expect there was great excitement and enthusiasm at this crucial juncture in our nation’s history. Almost 180 years later I do not believe that any mode of transport has surpassed travel by train in terms of efficiency and comfort. However, it is crucial that we do not stand still.
Phase 2 of the High Speed 2 rail project will bring high-speed services to York. Rather than constructing new rail infrastructure near the city, services will leave York and utilise the East Coast Main Line before shifting onto the new railway line near Church Fenton. Reducing standard journey times between York and London by thirty minutes will incentivise firms to base themselves in our city. What is also often overlooked is the reduction in journey times between York and Birmingham, this will fall from 2 hours and ten minutes to just over an hour.
Improved journey times is certainly to be welcomed but HS2 will also address capacity constraints on the East Coast Main Line. Passenger numbers between York and London are only expanding and the arguments in favour of High Speed 2 go beyond faster journeys and include boosting the number of services to the capital and relieving congestion on the current network.
I have some concern that Leeds railway station has been given £1.2 million by the Department for Transport to develop a business case for upgrading the station in preparation for HS2, when York station has received nothing. I have made representations on this matter to Ministers and this should give them some food for thought over the summer recess.
The decision to extend high-speed services to Scotland is a very long way off but preliminary work has considered a number of options for how this could be done. Due to the curvature of the railway line through York station, trains are limited to a speed of 30mph and one suggestion is to build a new parkway station to the West of the city. I firmly believe that this approach is misguided and is quite clearly not in the best interests of York.
I read with interest the Transport Secretary’s recent comments regarding Trans-Pennine electrification and the suggestion that the entirety of the line would not be upgraded. Reducing the time taken to travel by train from York to Leeds and Manchester must be a high priority and I firmly believe that if bi-mode trains are to be used, they must achieve the same journey times as though the route were fully electrified. The Department for Transport asserts that these electric trains with diesel capability will have a better acceleration that a traditional locomotive of the same power pulling unpowered cars in poor rail conditions and are more robust in the event of the loss of electrical power.
We find ourselves blessed with a unique opportunity as improving rail infrastructure is high on the agenda at the very same time York will be developing one of the largest city-centre brownfield sites in Europe within spitting distance of the railway station. The Council are now consulting on access arrangements for the York Central site and I expect noticeable changes to take form in the very near future.
The York Central development will deliver over 1,000 homes and space for office, retail and leisure uses. The provision of A-grade city centre office space would provide a significant boost to York’s economy whilst driving up wages and attracting companies in sectors such as technology and financial services. At the same time, new homes will address York’s housing needs whilst protecting our greenbelt.
We must rediscover our zeal for railway projects and embrace this fine British institution. I strongly believe that protecting York’s character is best served by improving connectivity and enhancing access to the city. Improving our railway network plays an integral role in this and York must remain an important hub for rail services.