Raft of new lines and rail upgrades recommended to Government in 'critical' levelling up component

Northern leaders have told the Government that significant investment in the region's railways is a "critical" component of levelling up as they recommended sweeping upgrades to routes across Yorkshire and the wider North.

Elected mayors, council and business leaders met today to decide on their preferred routes to get attention under Government plans to overhaul railways.

The suggestions include a brand new line from Manchester to Leeds, via the centre of Bradford, and connecting Sheffield to HS2 before continuing to Leeds.

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Upgrades should also be made on the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield, the lines between Leeds and Sheffield to Hull, and the East Coast Mainline, Transport for the North (TfN) said.

Transport for the North Northern Powerhouse Rail Director, Tim Wood. Photo: TfN
Transport for the North Northern Powerhouse Rail Director, Tim Wood. Photo: TfN

Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at TfN, said: “This is a significant moment for Northern Powerhouse Rail, we have an initial preferred way forward for a rail network that will deliver thousands of jobs, cut carbon emissions and slash journey times between the North’s towns, cities and beyond.

“With the need to build back better following the Covid-19 pandemic, delivery of long-term, job-creating infrastructure projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail need to be a critical component of the agenda. The preferred network would be transformational for the North’s economy and allow Northern workers access to enhanced opportunities through a wider jobs market.

“We’ll now enter discussions with Government and look at ways in which the number of remaining options can be further shortlisted and delivery accelerated for the sake of the North’s communities and future.”

The proposed network spans from Liverpool to Hull, Sheffield and the North East, and would begin construction in 2024/5.

It also links fully with HS2, with shared track, stations and junctions in parts.

The move comes after a number of MPs from the North and the Midlands called on the Government earlier this week to commit to Phase 2b of HS2, which would run from Birmingham, through the East Midlands and South Yorkshire to Leeds.

The preferred plan will now be sent to Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, with further decisions set for January and work continuing jointly with the Department for Transport (DfT) on an updated business case to be submitted in spring 2021.

The move comes ahead of the much-anticipated publication of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan – due to be published by the end of this year - which is expected to recommend how investment in rail projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 Phase 2b, and the TransPennine Route Upgrade will be delivered.

Mr Wood added: “The Integrated Rail Plan is a significant moment to secure a long-term, funded infrastructure pipeline for the North. Transport for the North has been consistent that this should include HS2 and NPR in full and deliver the full ambition to transform the North.”

Leader of Bradford City Council and Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Susan Hinchcliffe, welcomed the move.

She said: “A new line between Leeds and Manchester via a Bradford city centre station which also serves the Calder Valley line, and the delivery of the Trans-Pennine line upgrade in full are crucial to the Northern Powerhouse Rail project and have become even more important as we seek to accelerate West Yorkshire’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Government is being given a very clear recommendation on what the North needs to unleash its full potential and I hope it matches our ambition with its response.”

Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, Transport for the North Board member and West Yorkshire Combined Authority transport lead, added: “We will be making clear to the Government that our preferred option is the only way to unlock the full benefits of this investment and that anything less will be to short change the North of England and undermine the levelling-up agenda.”

A DfT spokesperson said:“Northern Powerhouse Rail is a key part of the Government’s agenda to level up the North and, once built, it will transform connectivity across the region and provide faster more frequent services for passengers.

“We welcome TfN’s proposals for this project and we will continue to work closely with them as the business case is developed.”