Government comes out fighting over Yorkshire rail u-turn

THE Department for Transport today rejected claims that it had betrayed Yorkshire rail travellers - and that it was still committed to the electrification of the Midland Mainline and TransPennine Express routes.

Harrogate MP Andrew Jones - the transport minister responsible for implementing the so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ - said “nothing could be further from truth” as he responded to The Yorkshire Post’s hard-hitting editorial which posed five specific questions for Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary.

“This is a pause, not a stop, and this change to the team will strengthen it to make sure we deliver. We remain hugely ambitious and that is why the budget remains intact,” wrote Mr Jones in an exclusive article for this newspaper.

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The full text is as follows.

YESTERDAY, this paper accused the Government of betraying Yorkshire. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, this Government has already delivered more for rail passengers in Yorkshire over the past five years than in the previous 13. And we’ve only just begun.

Much of our rail network dates back to the Victorian age. The truth is that successive Governments failed to invest the sums necessary in our rail network.

In the last decade, the UK became one of the lowest infrastructure investors of any advanced economy. As a result parts of the network are now full. That is why we find ourselves in the situation we are in today.

So when we faced a choice between building the infrastructure our country needs, or our railway becoming a brake on growth and opportunity, this Government chose to invest for the future.

We set out a £38bn programme to upgrade the current railway, and we supported HS2 to deliver capacity for the future. It is the biggest programme of railway modernisation since the Victorians.

Network Rail was tasked with delivering the upgrade on current lines, including electrification of the Midland Mainline between Sheffield and London, and the TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester.

It has become clear that Network Rail’s performance in delivering this upgrade has not been good enough. That is why this week the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has taken action to reset the programme and get it back on track.

The current chairman of Network Rail is stepping down. In his place will be Sir Peter Hendy, who successfully delivered London’s Olympic transport plan. He will report to the Transport Secretary by the Autumn on how the upgrade programme can be carried out. A special director has also been appointed to Network Rail’s board to report to the Secretary of State on progress.

Spending £38bn to upgrade the railway in the period to 2019 is still the plan. Not one penny of this money is being ‘cannibalised’ to pay for HS2 as some have suggested.

On routes between Sheffield and London, better services can and will be delivered before electrification. Electrification work will be paused but I want it to be part of future plans. In the meantime, we will deliver faster trains and better services for passengers on that route.

On TransPennine services between Leeds and Manchester, we will deliver modern trains and additional capacity as part of the new franchise which begins next year. Pacers will disappear from the North’s railways. The Secretary of State said to the House of Commons in March that electrification work on this line would be delayed. I want us to be much more ambitious, with a fast high-capacity TransPennine electric route that builds a powerhouse for the North, and we’re working with businesses and cities in the North to make that happen. We have paused electrification east of Stalybridge to ensure that it happens at the right time to deliver the most benefit.

This is a pause, not a stop, and this change to the team will strengthen it to make sure we deliver. We remain hugely ambitious and that is why the budget remains intact.

Our railway upgrade programme isn’t just about tracks either. We are investing nearly £6bn in brand new Hitachi Intercity Express trains, built in Britain and running on the East Coast Main Line from 2018. The trains will revolutionise journeys in the north, with more seats on each train, more services, reduced journey times and improved reliability.

We’re opening brand new stations like Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge. We’ve just opened the new Doncaster Chord creating more capacity for rail services by removing bottlenecks that have plagued services in South Yorkshire for years.

And we’re investing in the new southern entrance to Leeds Station to help regenerate the southern quarter of the city centre.

I was with the Transport Secretary when he made his first speech after the election in Leeds. Both he and I passionately believe in the power of transport to change the North. He announced then that HS2 is coming to Leeds and South Yorkshire because, thankfully, people didn’t listen to those who tried to play politics with HS2 during the election campaign. We’ll announce the details of the route to Yorkshire this autumn.

We’re also looking at ways of using the HS2 line to introduce faster regional services and at the case for speeding up construction of the Sheffield to Leeds section. HS2 will allow us to reorganise and improve commuter routes across Yorkshire. There will also be more room for local trains and rail freight, relieving congestion on Yorkshire’s roads.

Finally, we are going to keep commuter rail fares capped in real terms for the whole of this Parliament. People’s earnings will rise more quickly than rail fares for the first time since 2002.

So when people accuse the Government of betraying Yorkshire its worth looking at the facts. We’re making a huge investment to deliver a railway that is better, faster, more reliable and more affordable.

That is what people want. That is what they will get.

Andrew Jones is the Harrogate and Knaresborough MP. He is also the Department for Transport minister responsible for implementing the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.