Public transport should be central to the national debate we are currently having about the economic future of our country, writes Alison McGovern MP.
Very little is more important to current political concerns than bringing an end to the recession and insecurity facing people in Britain. And I'm sure public transport should be central to the national debate we are currently having about the economic future of our country. That's why I'm leading a debate on rail infrastructure in and around Merseyside.
This year, the secretary of state for transport will be setting out the government's investment priorities for our rail network for the five year period between 2014 and 2019. This poses a significant opportunity.
So what should the government's priorities be for this bit of economic planning? I would suggest that their considerations should seek two aims: rebalancing the UK economy, and addressing existing pockets of poverty.
Merseyside has an important place in rail history. In 1829 Stephenson's 'Rocket', set a speed record at Rainhill in Merseyside, and one year later the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened as the world's first steam passenger service. In 1886, the first tunnel under the Mersey opened connecting Birkenhead and Liverpool by rail. It was electrified just 17 years later becoming the first underground railway in the world to change over completely from steam to electric power.
But a grand history is not enough alone to underpin economic growth. So, the question I ask is, what infrastructure does Merseyside require to make sure economic growth is successfully achieved? And make sure that growth, when it comes, significantly benefits the least well-off?
A key problem with the Merseyrail network is the existence of some railway black holes. This was not always the case. Many of the parts of the area that suffer from poor connectivity had their railway closed or reduced many years ago, when people thought the future for rail looked bleak.
The result - perhaps unsurprisingly - is that we have some of the most disadvantaged communities in our region in these very black spots.
Thankfully we have some major economic opportunities available to us. Two Enterprise Zones - in Wirral and Deeside – are linked by a rail line that is in dire need of upgrading. Between Wrexham and Bidston, service frequency needs to be higher and reliability improving, to give people better reasons to travel by train. This line could offer new routes to travel and training; in Merseyside, little matters more. There are other similar opportunities to improve the rail network in Liverpool, and other parts of the city region.
During the economic instability of the 1980s, the last Tory government electrified parts of the Merseyside network. Unfortunately the parts that were left out form the gaps of today. If it was possible in the 1980s to invest in our network, surely it should be possible to do so again in 2012?
Alison McGovern has been MP for Wirral South, since the general election of May 2010.