The Government revealed the eastern leg of HS2 will only run to East Midlands Parkway, and trains will then continue on an existing line to Sheffield but not reach Leeds, when it published the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) in November.
The plan also promises £100m for a study to “look at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds”, but Northern leaders claim this is unnecessary and the Government should just stick to the original plan for HS2 and ensure the high-speed line reaches the city.
They have also criticised revised plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail, as the Government has opted to build a £17bn high-speed line between Warrington and Marsden and upgrade the Transpennine Main Line, instead of constructing a line that runs between Liverpool and Leeds via Bradford.
Ms Morton said: “I think it’s absolutely right that alongside that (the IRP) we continue to explore ways of getting HS2 trains to Leeds, which is why that commitment of £100m is so important.”
She added: “The Integrated Rail Plan is a £96bn investment in rail across the Midlands and the North. Nothing is off the table yet, as we work through the detail of it, but it is about fundamentally capacity, bringing benefits to passengers.
“It’s also about bringing benefits to passengers sooner, so they’re not waiting 10, 20 years to see the benefits of investment. Things can start to happen much, much sooner.”
Ms Morton, who became Rail Minister in December, spoke during a visit to Leeds Station yesterday, to discuss a £161m upgrade which is not part of the IRP. HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson had been expected to attend the event.
It comes after Network Rail completed the biggest track upgrade at the station in 20 years to reduce delays.
Engineers remodelled the track layout between platforms 4 and 6, installed more than 1,500 metres of new electric wires, replaced over 200 metres of track and extended platform 7, so it can accommodate longer trains, after they began work on Christmas Day.
Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This is an important milestone in our continued ambitions to modernise Leeds’ rail connections to make them fit to support what is one of the fastest-growing economies with the busiest railway station in the north of the UK.
“These upgrades will improve the passenger experience and are a first step towards beginning to address our capacity issues at Leeds station.
“We will work with the government to secure a robust strategy for ongoing enhancements to improve connectivity for Leeds that will benefit Yorkshire, the North and the UK.”
The Labour politician is still calling on the Government to build HS2 in full and previously said he is “extremely disappointed and frustrated” that the IRP offered “only offers more studies, reviews and uncertainty”.
The Government has said the projects outlined in the IRP will lead to “dramatic improvements” to journey times for passengers, as they will be able to travel from Leeds to Bradford in 12 minutes (currently takes 20 minutes), from Leeds to Manchester in 33 minutes (currently takes 55 minutes) and from Leeds to Liverpool in 73 minutes (currently takes 106 minutes).
The IRP states the full electrification of the Transpennine Main Line and improvements to journey times and capacity “will be delivered by 2030-32”.