OPINION: Government's new £30bn London rail project came only days after it cancelled £16m Lakes Line improvements
I DON’T know if you heard but the other day the government announced its commitment to what is called Crossrail 2.
This is a train line that is planned to run all the way from Shepperton in South West London through to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. Effectively running all the way through London from North to South.
The projected cost for this line, and we all know how accurate these projected costs can be, is currently about £30bn.
This announcement struck me as a bit ironic as only a few days earlier the government had told me that it had shelved its plans to electrify the Lakes Line. A scheme that would have cost a relatively modest £16m and for which much of the preparatory work had already been done.
It is only four years ago when we heard the secretary of state for transport tell us he was confident that the line would be approved and that it would be running by 2016.
I have been chasing them on progress on this more or less since that time. All I have received in return has been a long string of excuses for delays.
Sadly what we are learning is that the government really cannot be trusted on commitments to invest in our infrastructure, particularly on investments for those of us who live in the North of England.
What made this particularly sad is that the announcement also came hot on the heels of the announcement that the Lakes had been given World Heritage status. The extra visitors from around the world that we hope this award will bring us will surely expect to travel to Windermere on much more modern trains than those that currently trundle up and down the single track line.
I was, however, pleased to hear that the government is going to get the Northern rail franchise to at least investigate the use of what are called “bi-mode” trains on the line by 2021. These trains are designed to be able to run on both electricity where the line is electrified and diesel where it isn’t.
The great thing about this is that they could also be used on the Furness Line, for which there was no planned electrification despite a great need to improve the service.
The government has also promised us new trains with more seats, free Wi-Fi and plug sockets by 2019. But all of this comes with the proviso that it is “subject to the business case” which we all know means that they can weasel their way out of it at any time that suits.
I can see that my time between now and the next election, whenever that might be, is going to be well taken up with holding this government to account for its decisions and ensuring that the voice of those of us who live in the North of the country is heard loud and clear in the offices of government ministers, not least that of Chris Grayling the current transport secretary.
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale