Network Rail has said it does not have the funds to electrify two new stretches of the Transpennine Route, despite a promise from ministers last year that £589m to ‘kickstart’ work would see a significant part of the line electrified.
Last July transport secretary Grant Shapps 'confirmed' £589m ‘to kickstart work on the Transpennine main line’. The Department for Transport (DfT) said the cash was ‘for work to upgrade and electrify Transpennine main line’, which runs from Manchester to Leeds and to stations either side.
It said: ‘The most congested section of the route will be doubled from 2 to 4 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.’
Picture: Network Rail
This was interpreted as a pledge to fund upgrade works from Huddersfield to Westtown, east of Dewsbury, including electrification.
However, Network Rail has told Transport Network that it does not have sufficient funding for the works. A spokesperson said: ‘As part of TWAO consultations conducted in 2019 and 2020 proposals put forward include potential electrification between Huddersfield and Westtown (Dewsbury). However, this is subject to additional funding.’
Transport Network asked the DfT what electrification work will take place on the route funded by the new cash. It pointed to ‘early works’ for a section from Manchester to Stalybridge starting this year, with ‘options being worked up for the rest of the route’. It said these works were both confirmed and funded from the £589m.
However, Network Rail told Transport Network: ‘We are developing plans to potentially electrify the line between Manchester Victoria and Stalybridge stations, but this is subject to additional funding.’
According to the Network Rail website, ‘As part of this [potential electrification] we are planning OLE [overhead line equipment] piling that is due to commence in Spring.’
Network Rail pointed out that, under new arrangement for Control Period 6 (CP6; 2019-24), enhancement works proposed by Network Rail are agreed and funded on a case by case basis.
Last year’s announcement from the DfT was presented as providing funding. However, at the time of last year’s spending review, it emerged that ministers had cut £1bn from Network Rail’s enhancements budget for CP6.
In 2017, Transport Network revealed that Network Rail was planning upgrade works on the Transpennine Route during CP6 that would cost a total of £3bn. However, it now looks highly unlikely that these works will be delivered by 2024.
Rail funding frameworks delayed
Network Rail’s chief executive Andrew Haines is reported to have said in December that the organisation would present to the DfT a list of electrification schemes it is able to progress quickly if given the go-ahead. He described the Transpennine Route upgrade as ‘waiting and ready to go’.
As part of last year’s announcement, the DfT said in respect of the Transpennine Route: ‘Our 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.’
Progress on electrification projects is also linked to the DfT’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, which was due to be published last year but was also delayed. The DfT said it will be published ‘in due course’ – Whitehall code for no publication date – and that the Integrated Rail Plan will be published ‘early this year’.
Shapps struggles to find accelerator
The DfT announcement last summer included the launch of a ‘Northern Transport Acceleration Council’, which was to be led by Mr Shapps and ‘dedicated to accelerating vital infrastructure projects and better connecting communities across the north’s towns and cities’.
Last month Network Rail announced that ‘key rail infrastructure in the North of England will be upgraded this summer to support the delivery of the Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) programme’.
It described the works ‘to renew key sections of track and upgrade several railway bridges to improve reliability’ as ‘the first step to enable wider improvements’.
The work will take place east of Manchester Victoria station, ‘closing the lines towards Stalybridge and Rochdale, with a 16-day railway possession between these destinations from the 31 July until 16 August 2021’.
This will be just over a year since the announcement that the cash would see work on the route accelerated.
Network Rail said the work ‘forms part of TRU’s wider goal to deliver sought-after improvements along the full 76-mile Transpennine route - stretching from York to Manchester, via Leeds and Huddersfield’.
It said the full scope and scale of the TRU plan is ‘being explored by the Department for Transport and Network Rail’, adding: ‘The full extent of the programme is currently in planning, but major work is expected along the full stretch of the Transpennine route.’