The North of England has made a “powerful case” for the Government to fund its £500m Northern Hub package of proposed rail improvements, the Transport Secretary said as she prepared to reveal key spending plans next month.
Justine Greening praised the lobbying efforts of Northern politicians, transport bosses and media yesterday as she spoke of her desire to accelerate the electrification of the railways in the Department for Transport (DfT)’s forthcoming rail upgrade programme.
A decision on Northern Hub and other major rail investment schemes will be made before Parliament goes into summer recess in less than three weeks time, as part of the DfT’s rail spending plan for the 2015 - 2020 period.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Greening made it clear that Northern Hub is uppermost in her mind as she makes the final decisions on how to spend her budget.
“There’s no doubt that those people supporting Northern Hub have made a powerful case,” she told MPs.
“Just even in the last two weeks I’ve been in Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield – all of them have reiterated to me why this project matters so much.”
Northern Hub is a catch-all name for a major upgrade of the railways across the North of England, drawn up by Network Rail.
The package of 14 different measures centres mainly around Manchester, but would have major knock-on effects for Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, York and across the North.
Journey times would be slashed between cities and many more trains able to run on the network each year.
Several of the most headline-grabbing measures, including the electrification of the trans-Pennine line between Manchester, Leeds and York, have already been agreed by the Coalition.
But local MPs and transport bosses are calling on the DfT to agree the rest of the package in full next month when it announces its spending plan, known in the jargon as HLOS (High Level Output Specification).
Further key measures would include the construction of new “through” platforms at Manchester Piccadilly; new tracks on the line between Leeds and Liverpool and between Sheffield and Manchester to allow faster trains to run; and an overhaul of the aging Manchester Victoria station to transform it into a major interchange for the North.
A recent study suggested the full package of Northern Hub measures would add billions of pounds to the economy of the North of England.
Ms Greening said: “Obviously like the rest of the Government I have to cut my cloth to be able to afford what we are announcing, but at the end of the day we’ve already taken some important steps on this project. I’ll be setting out next steps across the railway network in the HLOS statement.”
Electrification is a key part of the Northern Hub project, and Ms Greening made it clear it will be one of the main focuses of the upgrade programme from 2015.
“We are getting on with electrification in a way the last Government never did,” she said.
“We have already announced several hundred miles of electrification – that is one of the key things I’m looking at as we finalise the HLOS package which I’ll be announcing shortly.”
The Transport Secretary also agreed there was a case for further assessing the out-of-date trains and carriages used across great swathes of the struggling Northern Rail network, dubbed “appalling” and “wholly unsuitable” by Southport MP John Pugh.
Ms Greening said: “There is a significant piece of work to look at what we can do to improve the rolling stock across the network, including looking at what new stock we need, but also at how the existing rolling stock can then cascade to improve services along the line.”
With backbench Conservatives from Southern constituencies continuing to lobby against the new High Speed Rail link to Yorkshire and Manchester, Ms Greening again reiterated her commitment to the £32bn project.
“I think it’s absolutely vital for the long-term success of this country,” she said.