Transpennine electrification put on hold

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has postponed the electrification of the Transpennine train route between Manchester and Leeds, as part of a raft of changes to railway operator Network Rail.

In a statement to the Houses of Parliament, McLoughlin said that Network Rail’s performance has fallen “below standards expected”, with some projects “costing more and taking longer” than they should have.

According to McLoughlin, “in order to ensure that Network Rail stays within its funding allowance” certain parts of the Government’s £38bn, five-year plan of train upgrades will be postponed, including the electrification of the Midland mainline route between London and Sheffield, and the line between Manchester and Leeds.

He pointed to problems with the UK supply chain, slow construction rates and planning consent period as to partly why work had not progressed, but said ultimately that: “All of these problems could and should have been foreseen by Network Rail.”

In regards to work on the line between Leeds and Manchester, McLoughlin said: “Current work on electrification will be paused. Because we need to be much more ambitious for that route, building a powerhouse for the north with a fast high capacity Transpennine electric route. We are working with businesses and cities in the north to make that happen.

“Just as in the north we have already seen electric trains introduced this year between Liverpool and Manchester; and between Liverpool and Wigan. Soon we will see them spread further, to Bolton, to Blackpool, and that work is underway.”

Responding to McLoughlin’s statement, Ed Cox, director of Manchester-based think tank IPPR North, said: “Today’s announcement is troubling for the Northern economy and a major setback to the Northern powerhouse. Transport connections and infrastructure must be the foundation on which a prosperous Northern economy is built.

“The North already loses out substantially when it comes to public investment in its dated, poorly integrated and under-funded transport network. Now it will see projects already too far back in the queue fall further behind, which will hamper the area’s ability to grow and compete.

“Promises of bigger and better mean little to the immediate needs of the North and seeing politicians and bureaucrats trading blame helps nobody.”

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What were the chances now that the elections are out of the way? I wonder what other pledges will fall by the wayside after next week’s budget.

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