Transport secretary Chris Grayling has appeared to renew the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference.
In a speech on Monday that also cited plans to roll out paperless rail ticketing and back Heathrow expansion, Mr Grayling said of the latter: ‘Of course it’s not our only big infrastructure project. Nor will it be the last. There’s… Northern Powerhouse Rail. Crossrail 2. And HS2, which will link them together.’
It followed chancellor Philip Hammond’s announcement of £300m to ‘future-proof’ the railway network in the North, ‘ensuring HS2 infrastructure can link up with future Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Rail projects while keeping open all options for services through Manchester Piccadilly’.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling
Nigel Foster, strategy director for sub-national transport body Transport for the North (TfN), told Transport Network: ‘We welcome the transport secretary’s ongoing commitment to the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail.
‘Our plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail will transform the economy in the North and can be delivered in phases, building on committed and planned investment. We look forward to working with Government and our partners to deliver them.’
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) pointed out that the Government has given TfN £60m to provide a business case for better links between Leeds, Manchester and other northern cities.
That funding was announced in last year’s Budget when then chancellor, George Osborne, also announced £80m to continue planning for Crossrail 2. It has seemed recently that plans for Crossrail 2 have been further advanced than those for Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Mr Grayling also said he was ‘setting out details of our £80m programme to bring smart ticketing… using mobile phones, barcodes and smartcards across almost all of the rail network by the end of next year’.
However, a spokeswoman for Mr Grayling confirmed to Transport Network there are no further details on the plans, which Mr Hammond announced in last year’s Autumn statement, at this point.
Mr Grayling’s pledge seems to relate to paperless rather than genuinely 'smart' tickets. According to reports, a briefing note from the Conservative Party said he would be ‘challenging the industry to accelerate proposals for the next generation of interoperable, pay-as-you-go smart ticketing systems’. These words did not appear in his speech.
On plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, which the Government has said is its preferred option for increasing capacity in the South East, Mr Grayling said: ‘Subject to the necessary consultation work and securing the backing of Parliament, we are aiming to give it the formal go ahead in the first half of next year.’
In January, when announcing the consultation on the draft Airports National Policy Statement – providing formal backing for expansion – Mr Grayling said ministers expected ‘to lay a final Airports National Policy Statement before Parliament for debate and an expected vote in the House of Commons by winter 2017-18’.