'Build east-west HS3 across the North before HS2', says Labour ex-Minister Caroline Flint

A former Minister called for new cross-Pennine rail links to be built before HS2 as the scale of rail passenger anger in the North was laid bare by official figures.

Trains across the Pennines are currently operated by TransPennine Express and Northern.

There were 63 per cent more complaints from Northern rail passengers between April and June this year and 21 per cent more on TransPennine Express compared with the same period last year, Office of Rail and Road (ORR) data shows

Northern had services crippled on many routes when new timetables were introduced on May 20, with the number of daily trains cancelled reaching 310 and there was also a knock-on effect which caused widespread problems for TPE.

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The figures showed the depth of passenger dissatisfaction with train services in the North as senior Labour MP Caroline Flint said it was time to prioritise the building of new cross-Pennine rail links ahead of the HS2 north-south high speed link, due to reach Leeds in 2033.

The Don Valley MP has previously backed calls for Northern Powerhouse rial to be finished at the same time, but is now demanding it is completed sooner.

Ms Flint, who co-chairs the all party parliamentary group on the Northern Powerhouse, told The Yorkshire Post: “For us in the North of England it’s the east-west links, the HS3 or Northern Powerhouse transport plan which ticks more of the boxes in answering the questions for the North than HS2 will ever do.”

It came as the damning ORR statistics showed an average complaints rate of nearly 30 per cent across all train operators in the UK, representing a 6.6 per cent year-on-year increase, with punctuality and reliability the most common concern at 22 per cent of all complaints, also up on the previous year.

Ms Flint said plans for Northern Powerhouse rail to reduce journey times between Bradford and Manchester, for example, from 61 to 20 minutes was “the sort of language people understand - what is the difference these big infrastructure projects are going to me".

HS2’s aims were initially defined by cutting journey times but in recent years Ministers have preferred to focus on the boost it will give to capacity on the East Coast Main Line.

Meanwhile, the Rail Minister has failed to guarantee that new East Coast Main Line timetables to be introduced in May will include the promised seven services a day between Bradford and London.

Replying to a written parliamentary question from Keighley MP John Grogan, Jo Johnson said “the industry is reviewing proposed changes for the May 2019 timetable”.

Mr Grogan said his answer suggested that “we are building up to another broken promise on the railways from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling”.

It came as Hull MP Diana Johnson called for an urgent statement from Mr Grayling after The Yorkshire Post revealed that rail passengers from Yorkshire travelling to London on the flagship East Coast Main Line face months of disruption next year and into 2020 as planned development works mean their trains will terminate short of the capital.

Labour MP Ms Johnson told the House of Commons: “In Hull, we are used to timetabling chaos, we’re also used to trains terminating early and we’re certainly not used to money being spent on our station.

“But with major disruption planned for next year and into 2020 can we please have a statement from the Transport Secretary?”

A DfT spokesman said insisted HS2 would “transform the North” and said its development should “take full account” of Northern Powerhouse rail, but insisted it would was “not feasible” to build the cross-Pennine link first ”as this would massively delay progress on each project.”