£600m boost to North’s rail network

A £600 million boost to northern England’s rail network has been announced alongside the establishment of an organisation to accelerate transport investment in the region.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the vast majority of the money will go towards kick-starting the Transpennine Upgrade to electrify most of the line between Manchester and Leeds.

It will also allow faster trains to overtake slower ones by doubling the number of tracks from two to four on the most congested sections around Huddersfield and Leeds.

There are further plans for full electrification, digital signalling, more areas with four tracks and improved freight capacity.

Those measures would allow all-electric services to operate between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, York and Newcastle.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who is also the Northern Powerhouse minister, will lead the new Northern Transport Acceleration Council.

The DfT claimed the creation of the body will give northern leaders a “direct line to ministers” to speed up projects.

It will hold its first meeting in September, and will consist of elected mayors and council leaders.

Mr Shapps said the Government is “determined to accelerate improvements” as people in the North “rightly expect action, progress and ambition”.

He went on: “We are determined to build back better at pace, and this new council will allow us to engage collectively and directly with elected northern leaders to build the vital projects the region is crying out for.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Levelling up opportunity will be key in our recovery from coronavirus and our long-term success will rely on having world-class infrastructure in all parts of the country.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham welcomed the announcements.

He said: “This feels like a gear change from the Government in the delivery of transport improvements in the North of England and I welcome the new drive that the Transport Secretary is bringing to this.

“People here deserve a modern, reliable public transport system and it is my hope that the Northern Transport Acceleration Council will bring forward the day when that is a reality.

“It is crucial that the council listens to the voice of the North and is accountable to people here through their elected politicians and bodies such as Transport for the North.”

Passenger watchdog Transport Focus urged the Government to ensure travellers are kept informed about what the work will mean for their journeys.

Director David Sidebottom said: “How this work is managed over the coming years will be key to passengers’ trust in the rail industry.”

Mr Shapps’ predecessor, Chris Grayling, was widely criticised after electrification projects in South Wales, the Midlands and the Lake District which were axed or downgraded in July 2017.

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