Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham led a series of angry responses at a Transport for the North board meeting on Friday, saying it was “embarrassing” the rail industry had put forward “non-workable options” aimed at relieving pressure on the network in central Manchester for a major public consultation earlier this year.
Pressure on the congested area played a significant part in the massive disruption to services across the North that followed timetable changes in May 2018.
Mayor Burnham said that at a meeting of the Rail North Committee earlier on Friday it had been “made apparent to us that the options that we consulted on for the May 2022 timetable were not deliverable options”.
He went on: “I think we need better than this from the rail industry. In any of our worlds, if we went out to consult on options that weren’t deliverable we would rightly be heavily criticised for wasting people’s time.
“It just isn’t acceptable to me that three years on from the chaos of May 2018 we are in a position where there is no clarity about the thinking around a workable timetable nor is there any clarity still about an infrastructure plan for central Manchester that would actually fix these things long term.
“If I were to put together the two elements that were presented to us this morning, from what I heard there is no prospect of a fix for the infrastructure that would actually fix the timetable until the early 2030s.
“I do not believe the rail industry is prioritising the north of England as the Secretary of State has called on people to do – to accelerate change in the north of England.
“We are going to go into a phase now where we need to see acceleration of ambitions with
regard to the government’s levelling up agenda and it feels to me that the rail industry is not in any way in a position to match those ambitions around levelling up and things need to change.”
Other senior figures echoed Mayor Burnham’s criticisms including Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe, who said: “It just illustrates the wider point about the investment that is so needed in the north of England to improve our rail infrastructure, not just on a local basis but on intra-city connectivity across the north as well.
“Government needs to demonstrate they are serious about putting that long-term investment in place.”
Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis called the situation “unacceptable”.
The board agreed to write to the Government to press for an urgent meeting of the recently formed Northern Transport Acceleration Council to tackle the issue.
The furore around new rail timetables will test the value of the Northern Transport Acceleration Council.
When the new body, chaired by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, was set up last year the Government said it would give regional leaders a “direct line” to Ministers to speed up the delivery of projects.
Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, who is also Barnsley Central MP, said: “The council was created precisely to address the issues that we find ourselves dealing with at the moment.
“I hope we will be able to convene the council to discuss this matter with the Secretary of State and others at the earliest available opportunity.”
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We’re committed to cutting congestion, improving punctuality and reliability, and delivering a more dependable railway which benefits passengers right across the North.
“We are examining responses to a consultation on all options, which will inform decisions to improve services as quickly as possible.”