£589m confirmed to kick-start rail upgrades across the North

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today (July 23) confirmed £589m to kickstart work on the Transpennine main line between Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester.

This is alongside the establishment of a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council, dedicated to accelerating vital infrastructure projects and better 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, and the 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.

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 council launched today 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 (DfT) staff based in Northern cities and dedicated to delivering for the North.

This follows the announcement of a range of investments to level up infrastructure across the North including £20m to deliver infrastructure renewals on the Tyne and Wear Metro, following £15m announced to upgrade Horden, Darlington and Middlesbrough stations.

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, said: “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.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “This feels like a gear change from the Government in the delivery of transport improvements in the North of England and I welcome the new drive that the Transport Secretary is bringing to this.

“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.

“The additional funding for the Transpennine Route Upgrade is a welcome sign of intent from the Government. The North has long argued for the existing scheme to be upgraded to bring the full range of passenger and freight benefits and we are glad that the Government has listened to this.

“But 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.

“As we look to recover from COVID-19 and build back better, I am ready to work in constructive partnership with the Government to get visible transport improvements as quickly as possible.

“My top priority is to build a London-style, integrated public transport system in Greater Manchester and I look forward to working with the Secretary of State on making this vision a reality.”

The Northern Transport Acceleration Council will hold its first meeting in September and will be made up of mayors and council leaders with the Transport Secretary as chair.

It will work closely with the Northern Powerhouse Growth Body to improve outcomes for people and places in the North.

Its establishment and the announcement of funds for upgrade works are the latest in a range of investments the Government has put into Northern transport.

In March, the DfT took over the running of rail services on the Northern network to deliver vital improvements and ensure that passengers are given the level of service they deserve.

At Budget the Chancellor confirmed more than £720m investment in local transport across the North through the Transforming Cities Fund.

At the end of this year the Government will publish the Integrated Rail Plan, specifically looking at how to deliver NPR, HS2 and other rail needs as quickly and efficiently as possible for the North.

Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, said: “We are delighted to see today’s announcement committing £600m to the Transpennine Route Upgrade, a key artery for passengers and freight in the North.

Barry White

“This is a major step forward and we also welcome the commitment to develop proposals to fully the electrify the line – something that we asked government to consider.

“We will continue to make the case for the further substantial investment needed to fully deliver this crucial project.”

He added: “We also welcome the announcement of a Northern Transport Acceleration Council and a DfT North; it is important that TfN, reflecting the voice of the 15 million people in the North, and the new organisations, work in partnership to build back better and level up.

“We will work with the Government and these new structures to promote faster decisions and speedier investment into the North.”

Roy Barry, head of the supply chain, logistics and manufacturing sectors at independent law firm Brabners, said: “The Government has promised to level the playing field for the Northern constituencies that delivered the Conservatives their current majority.

Roy Barry

“Historic imbalances in transport funding have created a huge divide between London and the North so the promise of more rail investment is timely and will undoubtedly be welcomed.

“That being said, a £600m investment in electrifying a single passenger rail line is unlikely to move the dial significantly, particularly when remote working is on the increase.

“We need the Government to commit to a scale of investment that can truly unlock the wider potential of the regional economy by enhancing East-West connectivity and modernising freight infrastructure.

“By way of example, the Port of Liverpool is being billed as the UK’s gateway for international trade after Brexit, but is currently only well-served by road.

“The lifeblood of the North is its ports, airports, industrial estates, distribution parks and the arterial routes that serve them.

“If the region is to prosper, investment in rail and supporting infrastructure must be big, bold and weighted far more favourably towards improving freight connectivity in a sustainable manner.”