Jack Straw: We need to get on track and campaign for extra rail links

THERE is less traffic on the roads today than there was eight years ago.

Few will believe me. But it’s true.

Across the country, total traffic (measured by ‘vehicle miles’) is down about two per cent in this period. But the regional differences are striking.

In the North West there’s been a three per cent reduction.

In London the drop has been almost nine per cent.

It’s so great that it’s really tangible. One main road between my London home and the Commons used often to be clogged up. Now there are many more people travelling along it by bus or bike than by car.

The reason? A virtuous circle has been created. Car commuting in central London has been discouraged by a £10.50 per day ‘Congestion Charge’. That money has gone on huge improvements to the bus service. London and the South East have taken the lion’s share of the billions of public spending on rail. In turn this investment has helped London’s economy grow faster than anywhere else in the UK.

Meanwhile, as I know from constituents’ complaints, and my own experience as a regular traveller on local services to Preston and Manchester, we in East Lancashire have to put up with less reliable, less frequent, often overcrowded services, and on thirty year old ‘Pacer’ trains – a Leyland bus body on a coal wagon chassis.

Improvements are in hand, it’s true. The Todmorden curve, to link Burnley direct to Manchester is already installed. Track doubling between Blackburn and Bolton should be completed by 2016, to allow for a regular half hour service all day.

But, despite these improvements, I worry that East Lancashire will be left behind. Elsewhere in the North West – Manchester/Bolton/Blackpool for example – electrification is already under way. There are still questions whether we’ll get additional trains (they won’t be new, for sure) to run extra services on our local lines.

My conclusion: we need to campaign now for electrification to be extended east from Preston to Colne, north from Bolton to Clitheroe. It would greatly help our economy – and cut those traffic jams.

Author: Jack Straw

Jack Straw was elected as the MP for Blackburn in 1979 and is currently the Secretary of State for Justice.

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