Levelling up our local train services
Miriam Cates MP | The Yorkshire Post
Soon after I was elected, I was asked to speak at a meeting in Barnsley to discuss rail transport in the local area. Having begun the day working in Penistone, I thought it might be a good idea to take the train to Barnsley, avoiding the traffic and potential parking frustrations. This plan was scuppered, however, by a quick glance at the timetable. This revealed that not only was there only one train service per hour, but also that I’d just missed it. With a busy day ahead of me there was no way I could wait the additional time, so I jumped in the car.
For me this was a minor inconvenience, but it's an experience that is shared by so many people in our region: local train services are simply inadequate to meet the needs of local people.
If you live in Croydon and want to journey into central London for work or leisure, you can choose from over 20 services per hour with a journey time of about 20 minutes. If you live in Sheffield and want to travel to Penistone – a similar distance – you can expect just one train per hour and a 45-minute journey.
Large-scale infrastructure projects like HS2 grab the headlines – and a lot of the cash – but I believe that local transport improvements have far more impact on people's lives. Local bus and train services are vital for everyday travel - travel to work, education, training, shops, and healthcare. Sadly, whilst rail transport links between our big cities are generally good, our towns and villages are much less well-connected, and this is a significant barrier to opportunity in rural areas. Poor train connections also make it far more difficult for people to swap their cars for more sustainable forms of transport.
That’s why I have submitted an application with Mark Eastwood MP to the Levelling Up Fund, to bid for major improvements to the Penistone Line in our constituencies.
The Penistone Line is a key connection between South and West Yorkshire, linking major towns and cities such as Sheffield, Barnsley, and Huddersfield. But it also serves smaller communities like Penistone, Silkstone Common, and Dodworth. This £47m investment would see a doubling in the frequency of services between these towns and villages, and improvements to local stations, including the creation of ‘mobility hubs’ to better integrate rail, bus, and active travel.
I’m often asked about 'Levelling Up', what it means, and why I spend so much time talking about trains and buses. Of course, better public transport in and of itself is not enough to spread wealth and opportunity more fairly across the country, and to re-balance our economy away from London and the South East. But for people living in towns and villages in my constituency, and across Yorkshire, the key to accessing the real drivers of levelling up - better jobs, better training, better education, better health – is better transport, and that's why buses and trains are so important, and why the Government is committing so much money to them.
When I was knocking on doors in the run up to the 2019 election, public transport was mentioned time and time again, but so was the feeling of being ignored or taken for granted by those in authority. The truth is, levelling up is not something the Government can ‘do to’ people; it's about empowering people and providing them with the conditions they need to deliver better opportunities for everyone in our communities. That’s why initiatives like the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, the Community Renewal Fund, and the Towns Fund are just as important as new trains and buses – these are the investments in people's lives and futures that will create new opportunities and strengthen our communities.
A huge amount of effort has gone into submitting this ‘Levelling Up Fund’ bid for the Penistone Line, particularly from Kirklees Council, and I very much hope our bid will be successful. But I’m under no illusions; we have so much more to do ‘Level Up’ in Yorkshire, particularly after the pandemic. At the risk of using another well-worn phrase, we need to take a long hard look at why so many people in our region have felt ‘left-behind’ in recent years, and make sure we deliver on the things we need to make the most of our talents and rejuvenate our communities.
This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post September 2021