Transport secretary Grant Shapps has pledged to meet the estimated £9bn cost of the Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU), announced in the wake of HS2 cuts, but critics accused him of pushing for headlines without full Treasury backing.
He said funding for the TRU had increased from £2.9bn to more than £9bn to help strengthen both the upgrade and the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme of which the TRU is now a part, ‘transforming an already ambitious project to a gold standard’.
Mr Shapps also said a futher £959m of this budget had been released for the remaining electrification of the railway between Stalybridge and Manchester and unlocking shorter journey times and trans-Pennine rail freight flows.
Electric trains between Manchester and Stalybridge are expected to hit the tracks around the middle of the decade.
‘By trebling the overall investment in the TRU, I’m ensuring the north is at the forefront of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda and guaranteeing passengers gold standard services set to deliver greener, faster and reliable services through Northern Powerhouse Rail, electrification and additional train tracks,’ Mr Shapps said.
The Department for Transport added that the full TRU route will be fitted with the latest technology, from complete electrification and full digital signalling, to increased capacity along the route for passenger and freight services between Huddersfield and Westtown in Dewsbury, doubling tracks from two to four.
However, Mr Shapps was accused of seeking headlines with ‘yet another re-announcement of existing funding’ after unveiling the £959m of TRU cash and claiming to have trebled its budget.
In May last year, the DfT estimated the total forecast cost of the TRU at between £9bn and £11.5bn. The Treasury had approved funding of £2,958m to the end of the current financial year, including the most recent release of £959m.
In its latest press release, the DfT did not state whether the Treasury had provided formal funding approval for the TRU beyond the end of 2022-23, or over what period the cash would be released.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA rail union, said: ‘This is yet another re-announcement of existing funding from a headline-seeking transport secretary.
‘Full commitment to a rolling programme of electrification and a concerted effort to encourage people out of private vehicles and into low-carbon public transport is needed more than ever as we experience the burning effects of climate change.’
Last year’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands (IRP), which cut back the scope of HS2, announced that the TRU would be significantly expanded to enable NPR and managed as the first phase of NPR.
The plan gave the budget for the combined programme as £22.6bn and Mr Shapps told MPs: ‘What we’re actually doing is investing £23bn to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Transpennine Route Upgrade’.
The DfT further muddied the waters by stating that the TRU would be ‘hitting the tracks from 2025’. It is already well underway and the reference to 2025 appears to cover the increased spending and reflect the statement in the IRP that: ‘Beyond 2025, because we are spending less than we planned on high speed rail, there will be more money for [other] things.'