The North’s sub-national transport body has warned that new Government funding for digital control of a key rail line will be inadequate without the wider package of improvements labelled Northern Powerhouse Rail.
As reported on Transport Network, transport secretary Chris Grayling has announced £5m development funding, which he said could make the TransPennine rail route Britain’s first digitally controlled intercity main line railway.
The new Ordsall Chord rail bridge in Manchester
Responding to Mr Grayling’s announcement, Nigel Foster, strategy director for Transport for the North, said: ‘Digital signalling is one of a number of rail enhancements that could improve the operation of railways in the North to play its part in driving forward the UK economy.
'This should be seen as part of a wider mix of important measures that will be required, including our Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals comprising new and upgraded infrastructure and integration with HS2, which forms part of our Strategic Transport Plan for the North.'
He added: ‘Our focus remains on ensuring we have all of the necessary transport interventions needed to support economic growth and productivity across the North.’
The Northern Powerhouse Rail package of improvements to cut journey times between major northern cities is also known as High Speed 3, while the Labour Party has promised to create a ‘Crossrail for the North’.
There have been suggestions that the current Government is less committed to the concept of a Northern Powerhouse, involving significant transport infrastructure improvements, than the administration of David Cameron and former chancellor George Osborne.
Although Mr Grayling said ministers ‘want the North to lead the way’ to ‘a digital revolution in our railways’, the new funding is just a fraction of a £450m a digital railway fund announced in last year’s Autumn Statement. Further funding will need to be provided to implement significant changes.
The Department for Transport has confirmed that Mr Grayling’s request that infrastructure operator Network Rail look at ‘better solutions’ – implicitly digital – for rail lines across Manchester was not currently backed by committed funding, although a spokesman suggested that further cash could be available.