Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has said there is no “simple, quick, non-disruptive solution” to improving journeys on one of the most congested rail routes in and out of Manchester, arguing the cost of the original scheme was “way out of kilter”.
Plans to extend platforms at Oxford Road station have been mooted for a number of years, and were designed to take advantage of the completion of the Ordsall Chord to allow more frequent trains between Piccadilly, Victoria, and beyond.
As of last year, Network Rail said works to Oxford Road were still “awaiting a decision from the Secretary of State”.
At Place North West’s Northern Transport Summit in Manchester, Grayling said the Government, Network Rail, and Transport for the North were “trying to work out what the best thing is to do about that corridor”.
Responding to claims the Government had “its head in the sand” and that delay to the Northern Hub had caused “a direct deterioration of rail services” and “sustained disruption” in Manchester, Grayling insisted the scheme was not cancelled, but said there was no “simple solution”.
He also said the Government was trying to work on a scheme that would minimise “years and years” of disruption” on the route.
“The original cost estimates were way out of kilter, the potential disruption that the project would cause to rail travel through the centre of Manchester is judged by everyone to be enormous, and I’m trying to work out, together with Network Rail [and] Transport for the North, what’s the best way to deal with that corridor.
“It’s absolutely fundamental, I’m well aware of it, but we don’t yet have a simple, quick, non-disruptive solution to it. It’s not a question of head in the sand; I do not have a simple solution that’s going to deliver quick change on that corridor. It’s going to mean years and years of disruption in Manchester that I don’t want either, so we’re trying to deliver that improvement without causing that.
He said some short-term measures, such as adding longer trains, could be explored.
Grayling also reiterated claims that the North of England receives more transport spending than the South. Figures published in December 2017 by the Infrastructure & Projects Authority suggested the North would receive £1,039 per person, compared to £1,029 per person in the South, between 2017/18 and 2020/21.
However, these were refuted by think tank IPPR North, which said transport spending was 2.6 times higher in London, which is to receive £4,155 per person. This analysis argued the Government had excluded £12bn of Transport for London spending from the figures.
Grayling said: “If you’re taking pure Government spending, the stuff that comes from my department, from the Department for Communities & Local Government, and through other routes, actually at the moment, spending per head is higher in the North than in the South.
“The thing that distorts the figure is London taxes; if you take Crossrail as an example, more than half of that now is being funded by taxation on businesses raised by the Mayor. So, if you count that as public spending, then that’s what distorts the figures.”
He also warned the current track upgrades to routes between Manchester and Leeds were going to be “very disruptive”. The multi-billion-pound project is now under way and is expected to run for several years.
“It is not just tinkering round the edges; this is a reconstruction of the railway line. It’s got to be done in phases because of the sheer disruption involved,” he said.
“It involves building new stations, reshaping the line of the existing tracks, flyovers. It’s often talked about in terms of electrification; it’s a complete reconstruction of a significant part of that line. We’re trying to do it in the most sensitive possible way. It is going to be very disruptive.
“There will be extended periods where the line has to be partially closed for work and trains will have to be diverted around that work, but it is absolutely essential to delivering in the shorter term a proper upgrade to the railway line between Manchester, Leeds, and York.”
A full write-up of the Northern Transport Summit, including interviews and discussions with the North’s civic and transport leaders, will be published tomorrow.
The Northern Transport Summit was sponsored by Transport for the North, Broadway Malyan, Waterman Group, Lexington Communications, and Winckworth Sherwood.