Ministers appear set to ditch both the eastern leg of HS2 and a new Northern Powerhouse Rail line across the Pennines via Bradford.
A number of Sunday newspapers reported that publication of the Integrated Rail Plan this week will see plans to extend the high speed rail line to Leeds finally dropped, as has been widely anticipated.
The Telegraph reported that transport secretary Grant Shapps will this week announce a £96bn package of investment in northern rail networks as an alternative.
Significant work has already taken place in Leeds to prepare for a new rail station that may never be built
However, it added that this will include ‘completing the 33-mile western leg of HS2 from Crewe to Manchester’. This is already part of HS2 plans as the other half of phase 2b.
In addition, the paper reported, the ‘package of investment’ will include upgrading the transpennine Manchester-Leeds line to cut journey times by 20 minutes and electrification of the Bolton to Wigan railway.
The Mail on Sunday said that routes lost to the Beeching cuts of the 1960s and 1970s, including the Don Valley line between Sheffield and Stockbridge in Yorkshire, and the Stockport to Ashton line in the North West, will be restored.
On Monday, the i Newspaper reported that the transpennine link, part of plans for a £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail network, has itself been relegated from a possible new line via Bradford to an upgrade of the existing line.
A ‘senior civil servant’ told the paper: ‘This is a half-arsed attempt at building a high-speed rail network in the North. What sounds like a big pot of money is really a lot of smaller scaled back projects piled together into one big announcement to hide that they are in reality delivering fewer things over a longer period of time.
‘It’ll be downgrading the North compared to the levelling up that other areas are getting from the benefits of HS2 and Crossrail over the decades to come.’
Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said: ‘It’s laughable that the Government expects people in the North to be grateful for some half-baked and repackaged plans, as they attempt to quietly back out of promises made on the vital major infrastructure projects those communities need so badly.
‘Failure to deliver on HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail – schemes ministers have committed to dozens of times – is not only insulting, it is actively holding back investment and opportunity that could benefit millions of people.’
A Department for Transport told the media that the Integrated Rail Plan would be published ‘shortly’, adding that the department does not ‘comment on speculation’.
Last week Bradford Council said a study of thousands of train journeys has found that it has the worst rail connections of any major British city.
It said that despite being Britain's seventh biggest city and enjoying a central position on the UK map, Bradford had ‘finished bottom due to a lack of direct rail routes and slow connections’.
The council has been campaigning for a Northern Powerhouse Rail station in Bradford city centre that ‘would slash journey times from the city to Manchester and Leeds, bringing 6.7 million people and an area of over £167 billion of annual economic output to within a 35-minute journey of central Bradford’.