Passengers told new Network North plan is 'not a fairy tale'

Rail Minister Huw Merriman has denied claims the Government’s new Network North plan is “a fairytale” and said he is keen to “get on and deliver" the projects which have been promised.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak decided to scrap the second phase of HS2, which was due to link Birmingham and Manchester, but said £19.8bn of the money “saved” will be reinvested in northern transport projects, such as a new station in Bradford and £3bn of line upgrades.

Critics claim an established plan to bring a multi-billion pound high-speed railway to the north of England has been replaced with a set of vague promises the Government will struggle to deliver.

Lord Andrew Adonis, a former Labour Transport Secretary, described Network North as a “fairytale”, claiming most of the projects “won’t start for years” as no clear plans are in place.

Rail Minister Huw MerrimanRail Minister Huw Merriman
Rail Minister Huw Merriman

One of the pledges, to reopen the mothballed Leamside line in County Durham, has already been dropped.

But during a visit to Bradford, Mr Merriman said he is “really keen to demonstrate this isn’t just a series of ambitions” and the projects are “actually going to be happening”.

“I understand people’s disappointment in certain quarters who were relying on HS2, but the decision has been made,” he said. “The important thing now is we embrace the change that’s going to occur and start to plot out and plan it, and then deliver it.

“It would have taken an 18-year period to get HS2 trains to Manchester, the legislation hadn’t even been put in place to deliver it.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak scrapped the northern leg of HS2 earlier this weekPrime Minister Rishi Sunak scrapped the northern leg of HS2 earlier this week
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak scrapped the northern leg of HS2 earlier this week

The Government has promised to connect Bradford to the new Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) network, by building a line which runs into a new station in the city. According to the plan, it will allow passengers to travel from Manchester to Bradford, via Huddersfield, in just 30 minutes.

Mr Merriman said no timeline has been set for the £2bn project yet because “we don’t want to rush things” and Bradford Council will decide where the station should be built.

“I’m keen to make sure the money committed by the Prime Minister is delivered as quickly as possible to ensure we can build it,” he said. “We will be working at pace to get that delivered.”

The Government said another £3bn will be spent on upgrading and electrifying lines between Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull – but no timeline for that project has been set yet.

The plan stated this will increase capacity and cut journey times, allowing passengers to travel from Hull to Manchester in 84 minutes.

As part of the new Network North, the Government has also promised £2.5bn for a mass transit system in West Yorkshire, £4bn for transport upgrades in major cities and £3.3bn for road resurfacing.

It comes as passengers who travel between York and Manchester are still waiting for the Transpennine Route Upgrade to be completed.

The £11.5bn project, which promises to fully electrify the 76-mile line and slash journey times, was first promised in 2011 and is due to be completed in 2033.

The Department of Transport is currently drawing up plans for the long-awaited NPR which now include Bradford, but has said that services will not start running until “the early-mid 2040s”.

The Prime Minister has previously resisted calls to deliver Transport for the North’s plan for a £43bn NPR network, with high-speed lines which run between Liverpool and Leeds, via Manchester.

Since 2021, he has favoured the cheaper alternative – set out in the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan – to build 40 miles of high-speed railway between Warrington and Marsden and upgrade existing lines.

Those plans relied on HS2 being built, as services were due to travel on the HS2 line in Manchester.

But the Government has said it will provide £12bn to ensure that line is still built as it will “allow the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail as previously planned”.