Minister offers Yorkshire rail upgrade hope

YORKSHIRE rail passengers have been offered hope that electrification of popular commuter routes could happen in the next decade.

Andrew Jones

Transport Minister Andrew Jones has insisted the recent decision to put the electrification of the transpennine line between Leeds and Manchester and the Midland Main Line serving Sheffield on hold will not automatically have a knock-on impact on other projects.

Before the General Election, Mr Jones chaired a taskforce which recommended to the Government that a series of routes in Yorkshire, including the Calder Valley and Harrogate lines, should be next in line for electrification.

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They were expected to feature in the next round of rail investment between 2019 and 2024 but the “pause” in current electrification schemes looked to have put that in severe doubt.

Mr Jones, now a Transport Minister, told The Yorkshire Post: “I don’t think we should be making that conclusion, no.

“The taskforce brought together all the political parties, it brought together local government and national government. It also brought together the North-East, the North-West and Yorkshire and the Humber.

“We all combined to produce one report as to where the priorities for investment should go for the next control period.

“As far as I am concerned our ambitions are unchanged.”

The Yorkshire Post’s Back on Track campaign is calling on the Government to reinstate the transpennine and Midland Main Line electrification projects and for a clear timetable for their delivery.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy is reviewing its investment plans and is due to present Ministers with a report in the autumn.

Mr Jones, the Harrogate MP, said: “The key thing is really that our ambitions are not changed. We know that at the heart of the northern powerhouse is connecting the cities.

“It is economies working together it is councils working together. For this to happen we need the connectivity and that is a road and a rail question.”

Mr Jones said work already carried out in the North West had led to significant improvements in rail services.

“What we are seeing there is what we want right across the whole of the network but the challenges for this section, the Leeds to Manchester section, are quite complicated and that’s why the project needs to be effectively replanned and brought back on track but the ambitions are bold and very encouraging.”

Mr Jones also hinted that major changes to proposals for a high speed rail station in Leeds are in the pipeline.

Under current plans, the HS2 high speed rail line is due to serve a new station near Asda’s headquarters with passengers having to walk to the existing station to connect with local services.

But earlier this year, Chancellor George Osborne asked HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins to review the plans for Leeds and it is understood the work has focused on having a single rail station for the city or to bring the two much closer together.

Mr Jones said: “We’ve got the Higgins report to come through but I think the key point is that we want connectivity.

“We should be looking at HS2 as motorways for trains and the HS2 stations should be hubs and we want spokes going into them.

“So integration with the classic network has to be part of the answer. We are waiting for the report but that is what I am hoping to see in it.”

***Back on Track logo please