Dan Jarvis said he welcomed the Williams-Shapps Review and the plan to give local leaders greater control but investment was vital.
A new state-owned body, Great British Railways (GBR), will set timetables and prices, sell tickets in England and manage rail infrastructure.
The government says a more unified rail system will lead to more ‘high-quality, consistent services’ from 2023 onwards, plus better connections. It will also simplify tickets, introduce more contactless and digital ticketing and, from next month, flexible season tickets aimed at people who commute two or three times a week.
Mr Jarvis said: “Passengers must come first, and their needs must be put ahead of profits. In South Yorkshire and across the North we need transformational investment to upgrade our decrepit Victorian infrastructure and improve connectivity between Northern towns and cities.
“If this government want to be taken seriously on the levelling up agenda, this will be a key test that they must meet.”
GBR will replace track operator Network Rail in 2023 and the government says the new system will look more like Transport for London, with multiple operators under one brand.
The reforms follow chaotic new timetables in May 2018 and years of complaints about a ‘fragmented’ franchising system, which has been scrapped.
Peter Kennan, chair of the Transport Forum at Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, ‘generally’ welcomed the changes but called for more local control.
He added: “Bringing tracks and trains together and putting passengers first is a very welcome development, particularly after all the disruption which Sheffield rail users and others suffered in 2018.
“It does not alter the fact that local leaders know best what is right for local areas when it comes to passenger transport. So the creation of the new body ‘Great British Railways’ does not mean that we should not be pushing for more devolution.
“The commitment in the White Paper to create simpler and more flexible fares for rail passengers is very welcome. Anyone trying to get the best deal on a rail fare at present is always left feeling that there might have been a cheaper way to make the journey.
“The commitment to more flexible ticketing is welcome, particularly for those who commute to work by rail. The changing work patterns as a result of the pandemic means that weekly, monthly and annual season tickets look very last year.
“Regular users of rail for commuting must be offered something that is attractive even where they spend part of the week working from home.
“There are ambitious targets to decarbonise our local economy and the commitment in the White Paper to decarbonising the railway is important. Investment in new track, electrification and more modern fleets is an important part of our move to Net Zero.
“The Williams Shapps Review is only the first plank of the work needed to reform the railways. We now need to see the Integrated Rail Plan to see if the government is going to live up to its promise to level up the North and not just parts of the North.