The Department for Transport (DfT) has ‘confirmed’ £589m to ‘kickstart’ work on the Transpennine main line through Huddersfield, which is the first part of a £3bn upgrade package announced back in 2017.
At the time of writing, the Network Rail webpage for the Transpennine upgrade stated that: 'We are still working with the Department for Transport on the specific details'. The DfT confirmed that the announcement is existing cash and the first phase of the existing plan.
In addition, transport secretary Grant Shapps also announced a new ‘Northern Transport Acceleration Council’ to ‘give northern leaders a direct line to ministers’.
The move comes two years after sub-national transport body (STB) Transport for the North (TfN) was given statutory status, ‘empowering the North to clearly communicate to Government its investment priorities’,
The DfT said that the council’s work will engage with its staff 'based in northern cities and dedicated to delivering for the North'.
Mr Shapps, who now also has the title of Northern Powerhouse minister, said: ‘People across the North rightly expect action, progress and ambition and this government is determined to accelerate improvements as we invest billions to level up the region’s infrastructure.
‘We are determined to build back better at pace, and this new council will allow us to engage collectively and directly with elected northern leaders to build the vital projects the region is crying out for.’
The announcement has been seen as an attempt by ministers to distract from its own failure to progress rail schemes in the region.
TfN chief executive Barry White is reported to have pointed out at the weekend that the Government already controls the delivery of major rail projects.
'Let’s be clear, the Department for Transport already controls every aspect of rail upgrades in the North - funding decisions, business case processes and oversight of Network Rail,' he said.
On Wednesday TfN said it welcomed the new council and ‘DfT North’. Mr White said: ‘It is important that TfN, reflecting the voice of the 15 million people in the North, and the new organisations work in partnership to build back better and level up.’
Quoted in the DfT's own statement, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham called the cash for the Transpennine route upgrade ‘a welcome sign of intent from the government’.
He added: ‘It is important to be clear that upgrading the existing railway between Manchester and Leeds does not diminish the need for a new line in Northern Powerhouse Rail nor does it solve the capacity issues in central Manchester which require a separate solution.’
The DfT said most congested section of the Manchester to Leeds route will be doubled from two to four tracks and ‘most’ of the line will be electrified.
It added: ‘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.
The DfT said these improvements ‘will allow all-electric services between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, York and Newcastle, bring longer and more frequent trains, and create significantly more local capacity along the line’.
It said improvements to allow more freight on the route, replacing thousands of diesel lorry journeys with electric freight trains, will also be considered in the plan.