Officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) have let freight bosses know that they will only put forward plans to electrify the route between Leeds and Manchester for passenger trains, with plans to apply the same improvements to freight trains set to be scrapped for the foreseeable future.
The recommendation – given by the DfT’s internal Board Investment and Commercial Committee to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – comes after more than two years of campaigning by the freight industry.
It hoped to secure an upgrade in infrastructure for the transportation of goods between the East and West of the country, allowing for the faster and greener movement of goods and the alleviation of congestion on the M62.
The campaign was based on extensive computer modelling and long-range projections which all show that the volume of goods to be transported around the North of England is set to vastly increase in the coming years.
But now officials have decided that the electrification scheme will be progressed over the next five years without any provision being built in for freight.
Instead, ‘passive provision’ will be made for freight were funds to become available at an unspecified later date.
Freight bosses say they have been left “disappointed and dissatisfied” after DfT officials elected not to back the upgrade.
Mike Hogg, North of England representative for the Rail Freight Group, told The Yorkshire Post: “We are very disappointed and dissatisfied with the recommendation. We cannot see the rationale. With our members, we put together a 20-30 year traffic projection and passed this to the DfT last May.
“We have a lot of confidence in the market and that traffic will run to the quantity we project. It now looks like all of that is going to have to go onto the M62.”
Mr Hogg said the North’s economy was being constrained by inadequate rail freight infrastructure when compared to neighbouring countries.
“When you go to Rotterdam and Antwerp, close to the docks there are an abundance of trains ready to transport goods all across Europe,” he said.
“When you get to the British side it is the road and nothing else – and the reason for that is the lack of capacity and the lack of capability. We are still relying on a Victorian infrastructure.”
The move to shelve the upgrade was branded “another broken promise on transport from this Government”, by Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald.
“It’s hugely disappointing to hear that the Department for Transport has downgraded the planned investment on the Transpennine route so that there is no new provision for freight,” he said.
“This is short-sighted cost cutting. Getting more freight onto rail is critical to boosting the economy of the north of England by improving logistics and distribution networks across the region and increasing connectivity with the ports.”
A DfT spokeswoman last night said rail freight played “a vital role” but did not commit to that upgrade.
“The Transpennine Route Upgrade is the biggest planned investment project in the UK on our existing railway,” she said. “Further upgrades will be considered once we have established what will be delivered first.”
She added that the DfT would focus first on “those upgrades which will lead to the biggest improvements for passengers”.