The transport secretary has announced £5m development funding, which he said could make the TransPennine rail route Britain’s first digitally controlled intercity main line railway.
Infrastructure operator Network Rail will receive ‘up to £5m’ to develop proposals for embedding digital technology between Manchester and York.
This includes looking at a system of advanced train traffic management where a computer works out how to route the trains most efficiently along the line.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘We are about to see a digital revolution in our railways, and we want the North to lead the way.'
In a speech on Friday, Mr Grayling said the Government was ‘cracking on with the modernisation of the transpennine railway line’.
However, plans to upgrade the line fall well short of the ‘HS3’ high speed for the North network that many campaigners and local authorities have called for.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘We welcome the Government's commitment to invest in the Trans-Pennine rail route, after doubts had been raised over whether investment would continue.
‘However, passengers and communities across the North will want to see detail and timescales about exactly what this will mean in practice, and when they can expect quicker and more frequent services.’
The funding comes from a £450m digital railway fund announced in last year’s Autumn Statement.
In a separate announcement, Mr Grayling said he had asked Network Rail to look at ‘better solutions’ for rail routes across Manchester, but did not appear to have provided funding for this.
Pointing out that the core of Thameslink ‘uses digital technology to take up to 24 trains an hour, on just two tracks with two platforms’, he said: ‘Why does Manchester have to settle for an analogue solution in a digital age?’
Mr Grayling said he was ‘ambitious for the transpennine routes’ and wanted a big increase in transpennine capacity on roads as well as rail.
He said: ‘It’s why we are pressing ahead with [plans to upgrade] the A66, and looking for new road corridors.’