The prospects for transport in the region are at a critical point, with Transport for the North (TfN) working at “breakneck” speed to produce a costed plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Transport Secretary poised to announce the next steps for the East Coast line within days.
TfN’s chief executive officer Barry White told a meeting of MPs and peers that the country’s first sub-national transport body is now “marching in lock-step” with Crossrail 2 as Mr Grayling considers funding of future infrastructure projects.
Meanwhile, former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis warned Mr Grayling not to give Virgin and Stagecoach a “huge bailout by another name” by allowing them to continue running services on the East Coast line.
The Labour peer said the firms are already being given a “bailout” with the Government ending the £3.3bn contract to operate services between London, Leeds and Edinburgh early.
Mr Grayling previously said he would either put the franchise into public control through an operator of last resort – a consortium led by Arup – or negotiate a short-term deal with the incumbent.
The Financial Times reported that a decision is expected before the end of the week but a spokeswoman for Mr Grayling refused to comment.
Lord Adonis, who quit as chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission after Mr Grayling announced that the franchise would be terminated in 2020 to enable it to become a public-private railway, said: “Don’t fall for (the) words ‘not for profit’. Virgin and Stagecoach will do very nicely out of this ‘not for profit’ contract. It is a real scandal if they get it, since they have just been given a £2bn bailout from their previous contract.”
Meanwhile, Mr White revealed TfN considered itself up to speed with Crossrail 2 with its plans for a new cross-Pennine railway from Liverpool to Leeds through Manchester and Bradford.
At a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on rail, Mr White said: “We are working at breakneck speed to prepare the high-level plan, the strategic outline.
“This high-level plan will set out costed proposals for the network and those will be submitted to the Secretary of State by the end of this year.
“We started many years behind Crossrail 2 and actually what the Secretary of State is saying was that we’re now very much marching in lock-step with Crossrail 2.
“And having caught up enormously by working at a very fast pace to get that high-level plan pulled together. This includes fast rail between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Newcastle and Manchester International Airport.”
Boxing Day services should run in the North for the first time in decades if they are cost-effective, Transport for the North’s CEO Barry White said.
Labour MP John Grogan asked if Mr White would back his campaign for Boxing Day trains, with Northern Rail obliged to provide 60 services this year and operator TransPennine contracted to at least consult on the idea.
Mr Grogan said opening up services could help travellers looking to get to and from Manchester Airport on one of the busiest days of the year and football fans to matches.
Mr White replied: “Instinctively I would be in favour of it provided the cost is manageable.”