TRANSPORT Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has denied that Yorkshire voters were the victim of a con when key upgrades to the region’s railways were shelved just weeks after the General Election.
Shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher, the Barnsley East MP, made the accusation as he described the Government’s decision to put the electrification of the transPennine and Midland Main Line routes on hold just seven weeks after the General Election as “shabby”.
Mr McLoughlin was forced to defend himself in the Commons on the day The Yorkshire Post launched its Back on Track campaign calling for the reinstatement of the proposed electrification schemes.
Back on Track received immediate backing in Parliament as Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox tabled a motion welcoming the campaign. She said: “The Yorkshire Post campaign speaks with one voice for the Yorkshire MPs, businesses, commuters and others who are outraged that after all the pre-election promises, electrification has since been shelved indefinitely.
“This decision undermines the Government’s so called Northern Powerhouse agenda and its commitment to helping boost the northern economy. It has an impact on many people and businesses across Yorkshire and the North and needs to be resolved urgently.”
In the Commons, MPs queued up to put Mr McLoughlin on the spot over when he knew that Network Rail’s investment plan, which included the two Yorkshire schemes, was floundering and would need to be put on hold. Mr Dugher told Mr McLouglin: “The chief executive of Network Rail Mark Carne said ‘people knew perfectly well there were high levels of uncertainty about this, it was widely flagged at the time and it would not be fair for people to forget that’. I wonder who he is referring to?
“Ministers knew all along they were going to shelve these projects but they continued to con the public. This is completely shabby. Shouldn’t the Government now live up to their election promises, reinstate the work of the electrification and not pull the plug on these vital upgrades for the North and the Midlands?”
London transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy has been be installed as the new chairman of Network Rail to take a fresh look at its investment plan. Mr McLoughlin said: “The last time a major upgrade was done by Labour, it set out as a £2bn scheme. It ended as a £12bn scheme and then was scaled back to a £9bn scheme, I think.
“It would be wrong of me therefore to say exactly what the course of action will be in the future until I have got Sir Peter Hendy’s report, he starts work today, but I am committed to seeing the electrification as laid out.”
Asked whether the “pause” represented a “cynical betrayal of voters”, Mr McLoughlin answered: “No”.
Documents unearthed earlier this week indicated Network Rail was preparing for the schemes to be put on hold before the election and a further letter has subsequently emerged detailing discussions within the Department for Transport over the ongoing need for diesel trains.
Mr Dugher said: “This letter from the Transport Secretary to his most senior official at the Department for Transport just adds to growing evidence that the Government knew months before the election that they would end up breaking their election promises.”