Let’s now build ‘first class’ trans-Pennine rail line – Grant Shapps

ACTION speaks louder than words. And when it comes to the history of transport infrastructure in Yorkshire, there has been a lot of the latter and not nearly enough of the former.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stripped Northern of its rail franchise earlier this year.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stripped Northern of its rail franchise earlier this year.

This Government intends to change that.

For too long, Yorkshiremen and women have had to put up with what I call the transport deficit, the chronic underfunding of transport infrastructure in the North and elsewhere in comparison with the South East.

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It takes time to build and improve transport links, but we are determined to close this gap in the life of this Parliament, not in 10 or 20 years’ time. Our plans for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are ambitious – but their sheer scale means they will not be finished until the late 2030s. Passengers need change sooner than that.

Grant Shapps is the Transport Secretary and Northern Powerhouse Minister.

One of the most glaring examples of inadequate transport links in this part of the country is the Trans-Pennine railway connecting Leeds with Manchester. For too long, this vital artery, joining two great cities and the other cities of the North that connect with them, has been plagued by delays.

Inadequate capacity – twin track where it should be four-track – results in choke points which force express and local stopping trains to jumble up, slowing everything down.

So, one of my biggest priorities is to transform that line with the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade (TRU) which will result in faster, more frequent and more robust services.

Today we’re releasing the first £589m of the scheme, to kickstart upgrade work between York, Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester. This money will speed up trains and boost reliability by electrifying much of the line and doubling the number of tracks on congested stretches.

Grant Shapps succeeded Chris Grayling as Transport Secretary a year ago.

I want it to be a first-class, fully-electrified railway with more four-tracking and room for freight, not an also-ran in comparison with the East and West Coast Mainlines. Travelling from Liverpool to Newcastle via Yorkshire should be a smooth, seamless journey, not an obstacle course – and passengers will start to see the benefits in four years.

TRU will allow the economic heart of Yorkshire to beat more powerfully. People, commerce and ideas will flow more freely. This is the payback for investment that will climb into the billions.

My determination to improve railway services in the short term drove the decision to take over the failing train operator Northern.

Recently, I’ve announced some £250m to increase light rail services, expand cycle lanes and improve road safety in Yorkshire and the Humber.

And when we “build, build, build”, as the Prime Minister promises, we want to build greener. Covid-19 is a mortal threat. But climate change is an even greater one in the long term and we need to address it now.

Rail electrification is one part of the solution, opening up the network to multiple energy sources. And even as we improve the road network to ease congestion we are nurturing electric vehicles as the successors to petrol and diesel.

We want this green revolution to improve health by encouraging cycling and walking. As an example of this commitment, we have just spent £1m in seed money to explore how the Queensbury Tunnel, a creation of the Victorian railway boom, can be repurposed as a cycling and pedestrian link connecting Halifax and Bradford. A snapshot of what we want to do.

For too long, big talk about the Northern Powerhouse has not been accompanied by big action. As Northern Powerhouse Minister in the Cabinet, combining that role with Transport Secretary, I believe we have to slash the red tape ensnaring infrastructure.

So, another part of my plan is something called the Northern Transport Acceleration Council, NTAC. This isn’t some bureaucratic fig leaf but a doing organisation.

It’s a forum bringing together Northern mayors and council leaders with me or one of my junior ministers to unblock infrastructure work. Hands on and task-led, it will benefit from grassroots knowledge and a hotline to the highest level of government, ensuring we can make a strong and unified case for investment. And it will be backed by DfT staff based here in the North.

A lot of people in Yorkshire took a chance with the Conservatives at the last election, forsaking old loyalties in the belief that we were sincere in our levelling-up agenda, aimed at injecting fresh heart into Northern communities and giving them the tools – new infrastructure – to maximise their economic potential. We will repay that trust.

We are on a journey. But not one that peters out in failed promises. This Government is promising a better future for the North and transport is at the heart of this pledge.

Grant Shapps is the Transport Secretary and Northern Powerhouse Minister.

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James Mitchinson