December 12: A rail strategy that brings power and opportunity to North

From: Andrew Jones, Transport Minister and MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough.

IN the last Parliament, the Government promised passengers in the north a world class railway that would make the “Northern Powerhouse” a reality. Now we have taken a massive step towards delivering that commitment with the announcement of two new rail franchises that will oversee a £1.2bn programme of investment across the Northern and TransPennine networks.

Among the benefits will be 500 new carriages with room for 40,000 more passengers into the North’s five biggest cities every weekday, an extra 2000 rail services a week, free wi-fi across the fleet, and the scrapping of the antiquated and unpopular Pacer trains.

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But the changes we are making reach far beyond the tracks. Better rail connections and a big increase in capacity will link people with jobs, attract investment to cities across the north, and create new opportunities for business.

And this is a rail strategy for the North, delivered by the North. The Northern Powerhouse can only be built by putting power back into Northern hands.

So a new body, Rail North Limited, representing 29 northern local authorities, will take joint-control of the new contracts, to be managed from Leeds.

Rail commuters into Leeds will benefit from an almost 52 per cent increase in seats in the morning peak on TransPennine Express trains, and a 40 per cent increase in capacity on Northern trains.

Bradford will benefit from new direct links to Liverpool, Manchester Airport, Wakefield, Sheffield, Chesterfield and Nottingham using brand new trains as part of a new, high-quality Northern Connect network. There will also be new stations at Apperley Bridge, and Low Moor. Passengers who travel to Manchester from Bradford will receive an extra train every hour, a better evening service and double the current services on Sundays.

York will benefit from faster trains to Liverpool and Manchester, more trains to Newcastle, Hull and Scarborough, while Scarborough will benefit from new, longer trains on direct services to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool and a new hourly service direct to York. In 2004, the last time these contracts were awarded, the Government did not plan for growth. Now we’ve put that right. Economic opportunity is on the rise again, and it is good transport that that will secure the recovery.