Doubts persist as Government set to unveil rail investment programme

Business and political leaders are bracing themselves for disappointment as the Government prepares to announce its long-awaited vision for the future of the railways.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is promising to reveal details of “a network that is fit for passengers today and for future generations” when he unveils the much-delayed Integrated Rail Plan in Parliament today.

But a number of reports have suggested the document, which sets out how schemes like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will fit in with the existing TransPennine Route Upgrade and other rail improvements, is expected to fall short of what leaders in the region have been calling for.

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Rather than new high speed line between Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds as part of the Eastern leg of HS2, there will be new line only as far as the East Midlands and then just upgraded line up into Yorkshire.

And despite Boris Johnson promising a new inter-city line between Leeds and Manchester soon after becoming Prime Minister in 2019, his plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail is set to involve mostly upgrades to the existing route via Huddersfield.

This means that Bradford – which has the worst rail links of any major city in the country – will not get its wish of a new through-station on a new route which would connect it to Leeds in seven minutes and Manchester in 20 minutes.

The Department for Transport said in a statement last night that its plan “delivers journey times which are the same as, similar to or faster than the original HS2 and Leeds-Manchester proposals, while doubling or trebling capacity and ensuring passengers and consumers benefit from tangible changes more quickly”.

But the details of how this will be achieved will not emerge until this morning, when Grant Shapps addresses the Commons. The Integrated Rail Plan is set to be published at around midday.

The Transport Secretary said last night: “Throughout the pandemic, we stood by our railway and invested billions to keep the country moving, and we are about to unleash a £96bn programme of investment that will transform a Victorian network into one befitting a modern country.

“The Integrated Rail Plan is designed to deliver for everyone, much sooner than under previous plans for rail schemes drawn up a decade ago, which no longer fit the way we travel today.

“Our plan will deliver a network that is fit for passengers today and for future generations – a network that works for every community and every passenger, right across the UK.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “If we are to see levelling up in action now, we must rapidly transform the services that matter to people most.

“That’s why the Integrated Rail Plan will be the biggest transport investment programme in a century, delivering meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly – with both high-speed journeys and better local services, it will ensure no town or city is left behind.”

A swift backlash is expected against the plans when they are released today, with Northern Labour metro mayors like West Yorkshire’s Tracy Brabin and South Yorkshire’s Dan Jarvis planning to publicly criticise the PM for breaking his promises.

Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon said: “The Integrated Rail Plan must deliver in full what has been promised. For too long communities across the North have been left with substandard infrastructure, whilst facing record fare increases.

“Instead of taking action on the cost of living crisis and fixing the transport problems they created, the Government is looking the other way, trapping people in a cycle of regional inequality, high tax and low growth.

“It’s laughable and insulting to expect people to be satisfied with watered down schemes and crumbs from the table, after putting their faith in a Prime Minister who has gone back on his word at the first opportunity.”

Business Live – West Midlands