FOR too long, the rail industry has had differing interpretations of the word ‘late’ when it comes to the performance of individual train operators.
Now there is no agreement when it comes to long-awaited improvements to the Hope Valley scheme in order to reduce journey times between Sheffield and Manchester, two of the biggest cities in the North.
By its own admission, Network Rail says the upgrade – intended to make it feasible for commuter services to pass slower-moving trains – was “originally planned to start in 2018 and be completed in 2019”. It now says “construction is expected to start in 2022” and be completed by 2023.
This contrasts with the Department for Transport which says the work was always due to be undertaken in “control period six” from 2019-2024 and is therefore not late. However this is no comfort to all those commuters who are having to put up with 19th century railway infrastructure – construction of the line through the picturesque Peak District was completed in 1894 – in the 21st century, hence the understandable anger of Sheffield City Region mayor, Dan Jarvis, as he prepares to meet Ministers next week.
He’s right. It is ludicrous that, in 2019, it takes almost an hour by train to travel 40 miles across the Pennines between Sheffield and Manchester – and that passengers should not have to wait for Northern Powerhouse Rail to be advanced for modest improvements to be undertaken.
As such, the Government’s response next week will be an early signal of the strength of its political and economic commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.