THE context is critical to the years of disruptions that trans-Pennine rail passengers will endure when the main line between Leeds and Manchester is finally upgraded.
Unlike this summer’s delays which have been largely brought about by the mismanagement of the railways, this work is a legacy of decades of under-investment.
And, because the line has been largely unchanged since the Victorian era and passes through a number of long tunnels as it cuts through adverse Pennine terrain which is difficult to access by road, improvements will be disruptive. This is borne out by the letter that Network Rail’s area managing director, Rob McIntosh, has written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in which he sets out the scale of inconvenience that will be incurred over a five-year period with many journey times extended as trains are switched to alternative routes.
Though this will cause despair to many, it is, in fact, a chance for the under-fire rail industry to try and redeem itself by working with commuters, and residents of those communities served by this line, to keep disruption to a minimum. If an alternative timetable can be put in place that can be adhered to by the train operator, passengers should be able to plan their trips with more confidence than they can at present. The key here is not just reliability, but clear communication from the outset – something that TransPennine Express has patently failed to do. At least Mr McIntosh’s submission acknowledges this necessity.
Yet, while this work will provide a stop-gap solution on a railway line that is integral to the region’s economy, it’s even more important that regional leaders accelerate their plans to develop a high-speed railway between Leeds and Manchester. For, if the Northern Powerhouse is to maximise its potential, make do and mend will only suffice for so long.