Warnings of 'anger and outrage' if Transpennine electrification axed

Plans to electrify the Manchester to Leeds route have been on hold since 2015

Politicians in northern England have warned of “anger and outrage” should the government confirm it has ditched plans to fully electrify the Transpennine rail route linking Manchester with Leeds and York.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has suggested since summer 2017 that the eventual upgrade would fall short of full electrification, although he has pledged to spend billions improving the route.

Options for improvements were submitted to ministers about six months ago by Network Rail, with an entirely electrified line being the most difficult and expensive, although extensive electrification is expected in a £3bn upgrade.

Northern transport bodies have fought for the government to honour its original pledge to deliver full electrification, a project that was at the heart of plans to improve rail links between cities across the north.

The scheme was paused in June 2015 due to the escalating costs of other rail upgrade projects carried out by Network Rail, notably the tripling of its budget on Great Western electrification. Electrification of lines in the Midlands and Wales have also since been axed.

A report in the Sunday Times suggested a decision had been made to cancel electrification. A government source described the story as “tosh”.

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “[If the story is true] it will spark real anger and outrage across the north of England. People here have been at the back of the queue for transport investment for as long as any of us can remember and this would leave promises of a northern powerhouse in tatters.

“At a time when we are looking to phase out diesel cars, it seems that this government thinks it is acceptable to have diesel trains running across the north of England for decades to come. That tells you all need to know about how they view the north.”

He called on the government to clarify its plans immediately, adding: “The decision to prioritise transport projects in the south – such as Crossrail 2 and investment to support the expansion of Heathrow – is creating a real fear that the north is being pushed to the back of the queue once again.”

A Commons transport select committee report last week said there was strong evidence that electrification remained the current optimal solution on heavily used parts of the railway and called on the government to work with the industry to reduce costs.

Lilian Greenwood, chair of the committee, said: ”If Transpennine electrification is cancelled, people across the north will conclude that the government has officially abandoned the northern powerhouse and any claim of credibility on the environment.”

The Department for Transport said no announcement was imminent. A spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving journeys on the Transpennine route, bringing in state-of-the art trains, longer carriages and more frequent services for passengers. But we want to go further and expect to spend around £3bn on a rolling series of upgrades on this key route between Manchester, Leeds and York from spring 2019.

“We are working with Network Rail and Transport for the North to determine the best way to achieve these major improvements for passengers.

“Network Rail has established options for infrastructure works that could deliver these improved journeys and we are considering these before making further decisions later this year.”


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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