Justine Greening warned there are “challenges” surrounding the proposal to build a short stretch of railway linking the first stage of HS2 to the Midland mainline, but promised to “look at whether these options are available... and whether we can progress them.”
The first stage of the £32bn HS2 project will link Birmingham to the capital by 2026, with the spurs onward to Yorkshire and the North West due to be completed by 2032.
But Manchester will be able to enjoy partial benefits of high-speed rail as soon as the first stage is built, with hybrid “classic compatible” trains able to run at normal speeds along the electrified West Coast mainline before moving onto the new electric HS2 track at Birmingham.
Ms Greening’s decision this week to electrify the Midland mainline by 2019 potentially opens the door for Yorkshire to enjoy the same benefits – but only if a short spur of new track is built to connect it to the HS2 line.
York Central Labour MP Hugh Bayley raised the issue with the Transport Secretary at a private meeting last week, and again in the House of Commons.
“New high-speed trains will bring new investment and jobs to northern England, but Yorkshire and the North West must get the same benefits at the same time,” Mr Bayley said.
“I don’t want Yorkshire to be left behind.”
Ms Greening warned him that there are “some challenges” to the proposal – including the cost of building around 15 miles of extra track.
But she added: “One of the most important aspects of the High Speed Two business case is to ensure that as many communities as possible are connected up with it, and that we do that as soon as possible.
“I have no doubt that we will continue to look at whether those options are available to us and we can progress them.”
Ms Greening also provided further details of her £9.4bn rail investment plans revealed by the Government on Monday, that will see the Northern Hub package of upgrades funded in full and further investment on the East Coast lien as well as the Midland electrification.
Ms Greening said the plans also include a major upgrade of Huddersfield station will also be included as part of works on either side of the Pennines.
“Increased capacity at Huddersfield station (will) maximise the benefits of the Northern Hub investment,” she said.
“We will continue to look at how we can do that across the whole of the network. I believe that this project will be hugely influential in unlocking economic growth across the Pennines.”
She also announced a further spur of electrification beyond Leeds to Selby.
“The Micklefield to Selby electrification opens up a second route to the north of Leeds,” she said.
“It also means that potentially we can have three trains an hour serving London.”
But there was anger in East Yorkshire over the lack of direct benefits for Hull or the surrounding area within the £9.4bn package.
Hull North Labour MP Diana Johnson said Hull would be left as the largest city in England without access to electrified rail.
“This coalition Government is being short-sighted yet again about Hull, and are failing to grasp an opportunity for supporting business regeneration in the Humber,” she said.
“Hull taxpayers and rail passengers will bear the costs of the improvements that will happen elsewhere in the country from 2014, without seeing electrification to upgrade our local lines.”