Northern politicians warn of “anger and outrage” if Transpennine electrification axed

Rumours over the weekend that the government has ditched plans to fully electrify the Transpennine rail route from Manchester to Leeds and York have been greeted with anger by politicians in the north.

For almost a year, transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has hinted that any eventual upgrade would fall short of full electrification, though he has pledged to spend billions improving the route.

An article in the Sunday Times suggested that a decision had been made to cancel electrification, but a government source has rubbished the story, describing it as “tosh”. 

This follows options for improvements to the line being submitted to ministers around six months ago by Network Rail, which identified electrifying the whole line as being the most difficult and expensive option. Transport bodies across the north have been lobbying for the government to honour its original pledge to deliver full electrification, as part of a project that was key to plans to improve rail links between cities across the north. 

Reacting to the rumours, Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, said: “If this story is true, it will spark real anger and outrage across the north of England. People here have been at the back of the queue for transport investment for as long as any of us can remember and this would leave promises of a northern powerhouse in tatters.”

Burnham said that the government was showing contempt for the environment in the north. “At a time when we are looking to phase out diesel cars, it seems that this government thinks it is acceptable to have diesel trains running across the north of England for decades to come. That tells you all need to know about how they view the north.”

At a time when the government was prioritising major transport projects in the south like Crossrail 2 and Heathrow expansion, Burnham said there was a real fear that “the north is being pushed to the back of the queue once again”. He said that if reports of Transpennine electrification being ditched were not true then the government needed to make that clear immediately. “Failure to do so would continue to erode trust in the whole concept of a Northern Powerhouse,” said Burnham.

Reacting to the news, Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Commons transport committee, said: “If Transpennine electrification is cancelled, people across the north will conclude that the government has officially abandoned the northern powerhouse and any claim of credibility on the environment.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said it had no immediate plans to make an announcement, saying “we are committed to improving journeys on the Transpennine route, bringing in state-of-the art trains, longer carriages and more frequent services for passengers. But we want to go further and expect to spend around £3bn on a rolling series of upgrades on this key route between Manchester, Leeds and York from spring 2019.”

Further decisions on planned improvements would be made “later this year,” the spokesman added.

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