Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced a £589 million kickstart for work on the Transpennine main line between Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester.
He is also establishing a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council, dedicated to accelerating vital infrastructure projects that will connecting communities across the North’s towns and cities.
The most congested section of the route will be doubled from two to four tracks, allowing fast trains to overtake slower ones, improving journey times and reliability for passengers across the North. Most of the line will be electrified, although the Department for Transport’s ambition is to go further. Full electrification, digital signalling, more multi-tracking and improved freight capacity are all now under consideration as part of an “Integrated Rail Plan” that is due to report in December.
Those improvements 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.
Upgrades to allow more freight on the route, replacing thousands of diesel lorry journeys with electric freight trains, will also be considered in the Plan.
Work is also under way to tackle the bottlenecks at either end of the route, without which the upgrade’s potential cannot be fulfilled. Leeds station is being resignalled and a new platform is being built. In central Manchester, development funding was awarded last month to tackle rail congestion.
The new Northern Transport Acceleration Council will ensure northern leaders have a direct line to ministers and has been 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.
As part of the government’s wider strategy to level up communities and strengthen devolution, the council’s work will engage with Department for Transport staff based in northern cities and dedicated to delivering for the North.
Transport Secretary and Northern Powerhouse Minister Grant Shapps said: “People across the North rightly expect action, progress and ambition, and this government is determined to accelerate improvements as we invest billions to level up the region’s infrastructure.
“We are determined to build back better at pace, and this new council will allow us to engage collectively and directly with elected northern leaders to build the vital projects the region is crying out for.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak added: “Levelling-up opportunity will be key in our recovery from Coronavirus – and our long-term success will rely on having world-class infrastructure in all parts of the country. The Transpennine rail upgrade shows we are delivering on our promises to the North.”
The rail industry welcomed the announcements. Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “Today’s announcement on progressing the Transpennine Route Upgrade and the establishment of a Northern Transport Acceleration Council are both positive signs that the government is serious about the role of rail schemes in generating an economic recovery following the Coronavirus outbreak.
“Following the stepping up of RIA’s ‘Speed Up Rail Enhancements’ campaign earlier this month, these announcements shows a clear impetus to make rail a central part of the Government’s ‘build, build, build’ agenda.”