Well done, London. We’re all really happy for you. No, honestly, good for you. I promise we’re not bitter at all.
Last week us Northerners looked on with envy as the first passengers boarded the capital’s new Elizabeth Line.
Four years late and with a £19 billion price tag (£4 billion over budget), the new line – also known as Crossrail – encompasses more than 70 miles of train lines and 10 new stations, from Reading and Heathrow to the west, through42km of new tunnels under central London, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the South East.
The grand opening last Tuesday was a cause for celebration. Samba dancers performed outside stations, landmarks including the London Eye and Tower Bridge were lit purple to mark the occasion, while London mayor Sadiq Khan declared the new line “fit for a queen”.
By 10am, 130,000 journeys had been made on the new line, according to Transport for London. It is expected that the Elizabeth Line will serve up to 200 million passengers a year.
Anyone who has commuted in London will tell you the new line is necessary. Trying to get anywhere in London on public transport is often a crowded, hot, uncomfortable experience, no matter how efficient it is. Any project that increases rail capacity and reduces travel time can only be good news.
As much as we’d love a Crossrail-style investment for ourselves, we can’t deny London needs it too. But it doesn’t stop us from asking the question: where is the multi-billion pound promise to make rail travel across the North more bearable? When will we be dancing in the streets? Where is the so-called levelling up?
A few weeks ago I planned to get a mid-morning train from Manchester to Blackpool. I was standing on the station platform less than five minutes before my train was due to arrive when all services to Blackpool for the next few hours were cancelled. It was such a non-event in the world of northern rail travel that the cancellations weren’t even announced. I just looked at the board, and there it was, the word “CANCELLED” next to all the trains I could feasibly get on for the next few hours.
As it so happened, it was a sunny Saturday on a bank holiday weekend. Just one stop away from where I was, at Manchester Piccadilly, and then at Salford Crescent, Bolton and Horwich Parkway, I am sure the station platforms were crowded with families planning to head to Blackpool for the day.
By some divine stroke of luck I was able to get a last minute lift from a friend, so my Saturday plans were not derailed (sorry, I had to).
But for those families waiting for trains that never arrived, I’m sure there were many who were forced to give up and go home.
And that’s what our substandard rail infrastructure in the North does. It cancels our plans, it forces us to travel in cars, it stops us from seeing friends and family members as often as we’d like to, and it stands in the way of job offers and other opportunities.
So while London understandably celebrates the new Elizabeth Line, we should never stop asking the question: what about us?