YORKSHIRE will be left seven years behind Manchester when the high speed rail network is built because large parts of the region do not have electrified lines to carry the trains.
The Government has pledged that after the first phase of high speed rail (HSR) is completed – from London to Birmingham – the second phases from Birmingham to Manchester and Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds will be built simultaneously so as not to favour either region’s economy.
However transport leaders in the region have warned the West Coast Mainline is already electrified, so new high speed trains will be able to travel direct from Manchester to London from the moment phase one is complete, –albeit at normal speeds before Birmingham – until the extended line is completed.
In Yorkshire the region will have to wait until the new dedicated high speed line is completed, at least seven years after phase one opens in 2026.
James Lewis, chairman of the West Yorkshire transport authority Metro, said the delay could be significantly longer if there is any slippage in the project timetable and could deter investors.
“The benefits to the Manchester economy will be immediate, they will get faster, direct services to London while their section of the network is being built,” Coun Lewis said. “In Yorkshire there are sections of the track that are not electrified, so the trains simply cannot come our way until 2033 – at the earliest.
“We are also concerned that if there is any slippage in the project, you are looking at a wait of 10 or even 12 years, that sort of uncertainty is not going to help investment.”
Yesterday Transport Minister Norman Baker came to Leeds to meet Coun Lewis along with the region’s business leaders, but it is understood he all but ruled out the possibility of funding the electrification of the gaps in the line from Leeds to Birmingham.
Mr Baker said the Government was “totally committed” to the second phase and wished to “crack on with it as soon as possible”. He added they were confident legal challenges from opponents would not stop work.
“Some people may make challenges and it is their right to do so,” he said. “But we think we have followed proper procedures through a robust process that will stand up to scrutiny.
“The fact is the value for money ratio for this project improves the further north it is built.”