£589m to kickstart rail upgrades across the North

Date published: 27 July 2020

£589m to kickstart work on the Transpennine main line between Leeds and Manchester via Huddersfield and Stalybridge has been confirmed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

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 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.

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 re-signalled and a new platform is being built. In central Manchester, development funding was awarded last month to tackle rail congestion.

A new Northern Transport Acceleration Council has been established alongside this announcement, dedicated to accelerating vital infrastructure projects and better connecting communities across the North’s towns and cities.

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.”

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 this 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 a better quality of service.

The announcements have been welcomed by local MPs Chris Clarkson and Tony Lloyd, and Barry White, Chief Executive of Transport for the North, who said the move is a “major step forward.”

Chris Clarkson, MP for Heywood and Middleton, said: “It’s clear that the government is taking it commitment to the North seriously – especially in ‘red wall’ seats like Heywood and Middleton which lent us their votes in December.

“Only through a programme of investment and levelling up can we kickstart the economic recovery the country needs following Coronavirus and the North West can and must be at the heart of that.”

Tony Lloyd, MP for Rochdale, added: “The North needs a world-class rail network as part of its public transport infrastructure. Like many people I’ve been demanding investment into that environmentally sustainable railway as part of the offer to the North. Genuine investment is bound to be welcome and in general terms I welcome the announcement. But I’m not alone in wondering how many times do the government announce the same money, the same commitment to investing in rail in the North.

“It’s now time to get on with it, get the money on the table and get the work done, so that the travelling public and the economy can benefit from it as soon as possible. The commitment that “most of the line” will be electrified is simply not good enough, we’ve got to see full electrification, modern engines and modern trains, that are environmentally sustainable for a modern North of England.

“From Rochdale’s point of view, we need to know that as services improve between our major cities, Manchester and Leeds in particular, that the travelling public to and from Rochdale can benefit from this too. I will be raising with the Transport Secretary, the need for an end to promises and for the work to finally begin.”

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