Pressure is mounting on the Government to reverse its decision to abandon rail electrification schemes in Yorkshire as critics argue the move will hinder efforts to shave crucial minutes off commuters’ journey times.
According to Labour, the changes have effectively pulled the plug on the Northern Powerhouse rail project, which if delivered, could cut up to 20 minutes off a journey between Leeds and Manchester and 23 minutes off travel from Sheffield to Hull.
The fresh case for electrification comes as a separate campaign to boost rail investment in the region continues to gain momentum, with a petition calling for a firm commitment to a “Crossrail for the North” nearing its target of 40,000 signatures.
It also comes as members of the transport union, the TSSA, meet with politicians as part of a renewed drive to hold the Government to account on its transport pledges.
Last month’s announcement that plans to electrify lines between London and Sheffield had been scrapped – and similar changes to the Transpennine link were under threat – prompted outrage from political leaders across Yorkshire.
The situation was compounded by a renewed commitment by ministers to the multi-billion pound Crossrail 2 project in London, leading to accusations that the Government had lost sight of its Northern Powerhouse agenda.
Ministers argued at the time that bi-modal trains – which can switch between electricity and diesel power – can deliver the same benefits to commuters without “disruptive” electrification works.
However, Labour has accused the Government of “trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes” by ignoring the environmental benefits of electric trains and playing down the impact on broader efforts to improve the region’s rail network overseen by Transport for the North,
“By scrapping the electrification of the TransPennine route, the Transport Secretary is essentially pulling the plug on the proposed Crossail North-Northern Powerhouse project, which could no longer be a fully electrified network,” Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said.
“Pulling the plug on electrification shows the Tories’ disregard for Wales and Yorkshire, which will continue to suffer from underinvestment.”
“Investment in rail capacity and efficiency is not an end in itself but is central to industrial development,” added Shadow Transport Minister and York MP Rachaell Maskell.
“The North of England has long suffered from ageing trains ... with ever increasing fares not only discourages passengers, but stifling businesses investing.”
Yesterday, an IPPR North petition calling for the Government to boost transport spending in the North and offer an “immediate” commitment to an East-West high speed rail link had received more than 38,200 signatures.
Commenting on the campaign, Luke Raikes, senior research fellow at the think tank said: “Yorkshire gets the worst deal in the country for transport investment.
“The Department for Transport (DfT) needs to take this issue seriously [and] stop trotting out the same line on the billion pounds it is deigning to give the North, when we would have seen £59bn more over the last decade if we had received the same per person as London.”
The DfT has repeatedly stressed the Government’s commitment to investing in infrastructure “to drive economic growth and spread wealth across the country”.
A spokesman said: “We are investing around £40bn in our railways as part of the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century.”