Speaking ahead of the Transport for the North (TfN)Annual Conference in Liverpool, Independent North of Tyne Mayor, Jamie Driscoll, said:
“Last March I addressed the Transport for the North Annual Conference in Newcastle, calling for more investment in our rail links. 11 months later and I won’t be attending the TfN conference in Liverpool because our east-west rail links are too unreliable. The irony is not lost on me.
“Business, charities, community groups, workers, students, young and old all want better transport links. The whole of society is crying out for better connectivity, but our politicians are failing to grasp the nettle.
“A recent report commissioned by the TUC suggests we need to basically double rail usage in the North East, if we are to hit our 2030 climate goals. But right now passenger numbers are down. Is it any wonder, when we are paying through the nose for a third-rate service? Price hikes and cancelled trains are the norm.
“Investment in public transport pays for itself quickly. Every £1 invested in rail returns £2.50 to the wider economy.
“Both main parties need to recognise this, pull their finger out, and commit to long term funding of our railways – including east-west links and re-opening the Leamside line in County Durham.
“I’ve spoken with the Transport Secretary to discuss how we can reopen this vital rail connection. He’s agreed to explore a joint approach which could include extra central government funding, our devolved North East money, justified by levering in investment into stronger businesses and economic growth along the line. The priority now is getting the engineers’ reports and making the business case. I’ve spoken o the Rail Minister Huw Merriman to accelerate that.
“I’ve also written twice now to the Shadow Transport Secretary to get confirmation of Labour’s position. When Lou Haigh joined me onstage at the Transport for the North Conference in Newcastle last March, she confirmed Labour would fully fund the Leamside Line with central government money. Sadly Labour promises don’t seem to be worth much these days.
“My position has remained constant. The Leamside line is a project of huge importance to the region, if we are to boost the economy and reduce emissions. As an engineer, I love a challenge. I’ll do what I’ve always done. Work with politicians of all colours to deliver the best deal for the people of the North East.”