REPORTS that the Government has scrapped its rail electrification programme in the North of England are “complete tosh”, the new Under-Secretary for Transport told a meeting of leading Yorkshire business figures.
Andrew Jones, who is also the Conservative MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, made the comments after being quizzed about the time scale for the electrification of the line connecting Leeds, Harrogate and York when he attended the York, North Yorkshire & East Riding Enterprise Partnership annual conference.
Mr Jones said the decision to pause the electrification of the Northern lines from the east of Stalybridge was a sign of good management at a time when the UK has an “eye-watering” deficit.
The electrification of the transpennine and Midland Main Line routes was put on hold by the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin last month as he ordered a review of Network Rail’s £38bn investment plan because of rising costs and slipping timescales.
The Yorkshire Post’s Back on Track campaign is calling on Ministers to reinstate both schemes and set out a clear timetable for their delivery.
Earlier this month, around 70 business leaders signed an open letter in The Yorkshire Post challenging Chancellor George Osborne to honour pre-election promises to upgrade the region’s railways.
Mr Jones told the audience at The Pavilions of Harrogate: “We’ve paused the electrification of the Northern lines from the east of Stalybridge – it’s not the rest of the North, so the areas around Manchester and Liverpool, and Wigan and Bolton – all of that is taking place.
“There are people working as we speak... We have paused it because Network Rail came to Ministers and said, ‘We are seeing projects over-running and over-running in terms of time and money’.
“We cannot be in a position where there is a blank cheque for people who are over-spending,’’ Mr Jones added. “Just look back at what happened on the West Coast main line. The West Coast main line electrification started as a £2bn project, it then went up to a £14bn project, before settling in to a £9bn project.
“£12bn of projected overspend. We are not in that place any more. We are still running a deficit. An eye-watering quantity of deficit.
“We’ll make sure they get back to this project. This project is at the heart of empowering the rail network in the North to deliver what we want. Rail in the North, will through electrification, boost capacity and boost connectivity.”
London’s former Transport Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy, has come in to run Network Rail and will report to the Transport Secretary in the Autumn,
Mr Jones added: “We are going to give him some room for manoeuvre to deliver that project for us. In terms of very locally what does it mean?
“Well, we’re talking about schemes of Control Period 5 being delayed. I’m hoping we will still be seeing the Harrogate and the Calder Valley lines electrified in the next Control Period – CP6 – but we aren’t in that place where we’ve got defined schemes yet.
“CP6 is a five-year control period running from 2019 to 2024. That’s what I’m hoping we will see, but we need to bear in mind this project has got to be got back on track and delivered.
“We haven’t really had a good approach to building infrastructure in our country for many, many years.
“But let’s not get this out of proportion. I’ve seen the campaigns in various media saying we’ve abandoned rail electrification in the North of England.
“It’s complete tosh. What’s happening is good management. When you see a hole and you have the capacity to stop people digging, good management is to take action and that is exactly what’s happened.”