A £600 million rail investment proves the Government is “getting on” with the Northern Powerhouse, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
The vast majority of the Department for Transport (DfT) funding will go towards kick-starting the Transpennine Upgrade to electrify most of the line between Manchester and Leeds.
It will also allow faster trains to overtake slower ones by doubling the number of tracks from two to four on the most congested sections around Huddersfield and Leeds.
Mr Shapps described the announcement as “very significant”.
We're determined to accelerate infrastructure improvements across the country - so today I've announced Â£600m to upgrade the North's rail network and set-up the Northern Transport Acceleration Council to push forward faster these vital projects 🚆 https://t.co/Aah5p84TQb pic.twitter.com/iO0xeRfsRS— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) July 23, 2020
He told the PA news agency: “People have heard about the Northern Powerhouse for a long time, but here we are actually getting on and doing it.
“That’s obviously good news. These are improvements which will be delivered in the timescale of this Parliament.
“That means that people’s journeys will become easier once we’ve got those things done.”
There are further plans for full electrification, digital signalling, more areas with four tracks and improved freight capacity.
Those measures would allow all-electric services to operate between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, York and Newcastle.
Mr Shapps said: “It clearly makes sense to be able to run electric-powered trains all the way across, so that is the direction we want to go in.”
The Transport Secretary, who is also the Northern Powerhouse minister, will lead a new body designed to speed up transport investment in the region.
Andy has welcomed the @grantshapps to @NetworkRailMAN as @transportgovuk announce Â£589m for rail upgrades in the North— Mayor Andy Burnham (@MayorofGM) July 23, 2020
🗣âAs we recover from Covid & build back better, I am ready to work in partnership with the Govt to get visible transport improvements as quickly as possible.â pic.twitter.com/aF9xIBN5gu
The DfT claimed the Northern Transport Acceleration Council will give northern leaders a “direct line to ministers” to speed up projects.
It will hold its first meeting in September, and will consist of elected mayors and council leaders.
Mr Shapps said the Government is “determined to accelerate improvements” as people in the North “rightly expect action, progress and ambition”.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham welcomed the announcements.
He 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.
👍 We welcome the announcement of Â£600m of rail improvements for the @TPEassist route between Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester— Transport Focus (@TransportFocus) July 23, 2020
🛠ï¸ Passengers tell us: they want to know this will be planned and delivered to minimise disruption
👉 Our full statement: https://t.co/rVgrRWSjRY pic.twitter.com/sTYJdt0la1
“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.”
Passenger watchdog Transport Focus urged the Government to ensure travellers are kept informed about what the work will mean for their journeys.
Director David Sidebottom said: “How this work is managed over the coming years will be key to passengers’ trust in the rail industry.”
Mr Shapps’s predecessor Chris Grayling was widely criticised after electrification projects in South Wales, the Midlands and the Lake District were axed or downgraded in July 2017.