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The allocation of £589m to ‘kickstart’ the enhancement of the trans-Pennine main line between Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester was announced by Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps on July 23, along with details of a Northern Transport Acceleration Council which is to be formed to deliver transport enhancements ‘as quickly as possible.’
The funding covers design and enabling works for the first stage of Network Rail’s Transpennine Route Upgrade programme, including partial electrification at 25 kV 50 Hz, an additional through platform at Huddersfield and 13 km of four-tracking. The two extra tracks are intended to help reduce journey times and improve performance by enabling express trains to overtake stopping services.
Industry leaders had criticised DfT’s initial proposal to only electrify parts of the route, retaining diesel operation on the more difficult central section across the Pennines including the 5·2 km Standedge tunnel. However, Shapps said ‘most of the line will be electrified, and our ambition is to go further. Full electrification, digital signalling, more multi-tracking and improved freight capacity are now under consideration as part of an Integrated Rail Plan due to report in December.’
This plan will set out how the rail sector and its many stakeholders can deliver the Transpennine Route Upgrade, Northern Powerhouse Rail, High Speed 2 and other projects as quickly and efficiently as possible. Shapps said TRU as now envisaged would ‘allow all-electric services between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, York and Newcastle; bring longer and more frequent trains; and create significantly more local capacity along the line.’
Proposals to ‘allow more freight on the route, replacing thousands of diesel lorry journeys with electric freight trains, will also be considered’, he added.
This follows criticism of the lack of provision for freight in DfT’s initial proposal. Rail Freight Group Executive Director Maggie Simpson revealed in June that ‘we have been working to ensure that capacity and gauge for freight is fully incorporated as a core part of the work, and this must now be urgently confirmed as this vital project moves forward.’
Northern Transport Acceleration CouncilShapps said the Northern Transport Acceleration Council was being formed ‘with the desire to cut bureaucracy and red tape so passengers can get the modern, reliable transport network they deserve as quickly as possible.’ Chaired by the Secretary of State, it will bring together mayors and council leaders to ‘ensure northern leaders have a direct line to ministers’.
NTAC is to hold its first meeting in September and will work closely with the Northern Powerhouse Growth Body.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said the new body would ‘not only give leaders like me another avenue to press our transport case to ministers’, but would mean that DfT staff based in the north could ‘see first-hand the challenges and opportunities we face, and the improvements and projects needed to unlock further growth and prosperity, with the ability to act on these.’
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said ‘people here deserve a modern, reliable public transport system and it is my hope that the Northern Transport Acceleration Council will bring forward the day when that is a reality. It is crucial that the Council listens to the voice of the north and is accountable to people here through their elected politicians and bodies such as Transport for the North.’
Burnham said ‘it is important to be clear that upgrading the existing railway between Manchester and Leeds does not diminish the need for a new line in Northern Powerhouse Rail nor does it solve the capacity issues in central Manchester which require a separate solution.’
However, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon said ‘whilst we welcome an announcement of devolution of transport powers, we’ve heard all this before. Transport for the North was set up to deliver the same aims as this new body, yet it had its roles and responsibilities pulled from underneath it.’
‘Positive signs’Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, said the announcements were ‘positive signs that the government is serious about the role of rail schemes in generating an economic recovery following the coronavirus outbreak.’
RIA called on the government ‘to make a speedy decision committing to the full electrification of the trans-Pennine route as part of a rolling programme across the network, to ensure rail investment delivers not only an economic recovery, but also leaves an environmental legacy for all of the UK.’
David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said TRU was ‘an essential part of the jigsaw if passengers travelling across the north are to see more punctual and reliable trains in future’. The project would be ‘key to passengers’ trust in the rail industry’. Rail users ‘will need to be told what it means for them and their journey, be kept informed about the work and once work starts they should be kept on trains rather than rail replacement buses wherever possible.’
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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