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The UK government may have cancelled plans for a dedicated high-speed line across the Pennine Mountain range, but work continues to improve the existing network. The Trans Pennine Upgrade (TRU) project has been criticised as a ‘make do and mend’ alternative to an all-new dedicated route, connecting the west and east coasts of northern England. However, supporters claim it is a step change in connectivity for passengers, freight and the economic recovery of the region.
The recent announcement of plans and a nine billion pound funding package (10.7 billion euro) for the West Yorkshire section of the Trans Pennine Upgrade turned signals green on an ambitious part of the scheme. Quadrupling of the busiest parts of the main line, and modern signalling, will see capacity on the line increase, to meet latent demand. The industry has high hopes
Funds made available earlier than expected
Network Rail, the national infrastructure agency, now has the go-ahead to radically rebuild the line between Huddersfield and Dewsbury as part of the Transpennine Route Upgrade. The scheme will see twice as many tracks installed, major renovations at Huddersfield, Deighton, Mirfield and Ravensthorpe stations, and the track layout radically redesigned.
Transpennine Route Upgrade is quite a complex challenge (Network Rail graphic)
The legal instrument – a Transport and Works Act Order – required for any project that involves building new sections of railway outside of the existing boundaries – was recently approved by Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, six months earlier than expected. However, many observers believe that was only possible because funds were made available by the cancellation of plans for a dedicated high speed line across the Pennines, and ditching the Eastern Leg of HS2.
Essential for unlocking wider benefits
Nevertheless, Network Rail, charged with delivering the rebuilt line between Manchester and Leeds, and on to York, is confident it will deliver a new transport corridor. Not only will it help encourage economic growth in the North of England, Network Rail say these major improvements will ultimately deliver more frequent, faster trains along a cleaner, greener, more reliable railway.
Neil Holm, Transpennine Route Upgrade Director, Network Rail (NR)
“This is a massive success for the Transpennine Route Upgrade”, said Neil Holm, Transpennine Route Upgrade Director for Network Rail. “Work on this part of the route is essential for unlocking wider benefits between York and Manchester via Leeds and Huddersfield. It’ll allow us to run more trains along the route.”
The needs of freight observed
In a recent presentation to members of the Rail Freight Group, Holm explained how the project had been accommodating the needs of freight. “We’re approaching benefits realisation by looking at the whole railway system”, he said. “The key components of this are infrastructure, operations, timetable and rolling stock, [all of which] mean something to passengers, freight or stakeholders.
Network Rail admits the extensive upgrade will result in some disruption (Network Rail image)
“TRU is a major, multi-billion programme of improvements that opens up a lot of opportunities for freight”, says Network Rail’s Holm. “We’re committed to working with freight industry partners to deliver these much-needed improvements. “[The] key next step for us is working to develop a TRU freight remit with the Department for Transport.”
Shapps semaphores intentions
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will likely sign off on the freight remit. With available funds now raised from the original project budget of around three billion pounds (3.6 billion euro) there should be some headroom. While the minister claims to have tripled the budget, there is some reaccounting in the process – a sharp practice the present UK government has been accused of more than once.
“I’m ensuring The North is at the forefront of the government’s Levelling Up agenda and guaranteeing gold standard services set to deliver greener, faster and reliable services through Northern Powerhouse Rail, electrification and additional train tracks”, he said in a written statement, somewhat undermined by an accompanying picture of two not exactly up-to-date semaphore signals … both set at halt.
Progress on ambitious plans
Neil Holm does admit that there will be disruption. It goes without saying that he, and every stakeholder would prefer to avoid that, but Network Rail is working to minimise the need for customers to do the wrong sort of modal shift. “Work continues this year to build resilience on our diversionary routes, begin preparations in Huddersfield and continue electrification work [between] Manchester – Stalybridge and York – Church Fenton.
“This requires all the industry delivery partners to work collaboratively to realise these benefits”, added Holm. “Everybody has shown support and provided feedback on our plans throughout the planning process. Now we have this approval, we can progress our ambitious plans and designs and continue to work with communities on what’s to come.”
This article first appeared on www.railfreight.com
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