The wheels of progress tend to jolt us now and then. So it is the case with the current closure of Lime Street station. Increased passenger demand means increased services. This, in turn, means that a long-overdue overhaul of the railway gateway to the city-region is underway. It will be a short term inconvenience; but it is for the eventual general good.
On the other hand, the impending introduction of tolls on the Mersey bridges in Halton will be a cost and an inconvenience which will do no-one any good, other than perhaps the Treasury. The old bridge will be out of commission until next year, whilst we can anticipate teething problems with the new Mersey Gateway bridge and its tolls. A visitor from the south might think that we were set on discouraging access to our city-region.
Such issues add to the challenges facing our metromayor, given his ostensible responsibility for transport and economic development. For too long, there has been a naive belief held by some that he can somehow work miracles in these areas. That is mistaken in so many ways. For a start, he does not have the necessary powers. Secondly, there is nothing which he can do without the agreement of the six council leaders who sit on the Combined Authority .Thirdly, in cases like the bridges, he is faced with a fait accompli, agreed long before he was elected.
Likewise, there have been unrealistic expectations concerning the ongoing dispute over driver-only trains on Merseyrail .The RMT union have conducted an apparently successful public relations case with much of the travelling public, based on safety arguments. Meanwhile, the chair of Merseytravel, Cllr. Robinson, and the metromayor, Steve Rotheram, have faced a stacked deck. The key decisions were taken long ago by the six leaders on the Combined Authority. This was to buy much-needed new rolling stock. This was not a proposal but a done deed. The contracts were signed and the deal closed. Cllr. Robinson and the metromayor are stuck with it.
My belief is that eventually, the RMT will come to an accommodation with Merseyrail. That is the nature of industrial bargaining. After all, if the London tubes can operate safely for years without guards, it seems logical that Merseyrail might do the same.
We in the Liverpool City Region need modern, efficient and safe transport links by both rail and road. A successful local economy depends upon them. If we fail on basic and vital infrastructure, we will fail on everything else. Note one fact, publicised this week, comparing the cities of Liverpool and Manchester, and the worth of private property in each city. Although Manchester is slightly smaller than Liverpool in population, the accumulated net worth of our nearest competitor city is THREE TIMES that of Liverpool. This clearly illustrates the widening gap which we must seek to narrow.
Perhaps it is not too much to urge all of our elected representatives across the city-region to give their whole-hearted support to the metromayor in his endeavours to get the city-region back on track. People power might just make up for the devolved powers currently denied him by national government.