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02.07.18

Urgent clarity needed amid claims that TransPennine electrification will be scrapped

The government has come under fire after claims it will reverse its decision to electrify the TransPennine rail route connecting Manchester to Leeds and York.

Last summer, transport secretary Chris Grayling suggested that the government could pull the plug on the scheme when he announced that three other electrification programmes were being cancelled.

He did later choose TransPennine to be the country’s first digitally-controlled intercity route, but did not clarify whether electrification would still form part of upgrade plans despite intense pressure from northern transport bodies and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.

According to Grayling, electrification is expensive and difficult to implement, especially alongside the escalating costs of other projects being carried out by Network Rail. He has instead voiced support for bi-mode trains that can run on both diesel and electric.

A report from The Sunday Times has now claimed that a decision has officially been made to cancel the scheme in the north. This follows on from last year’s suggestions that the programme would be rolled back after Grayling argued it may be “too difficult” to proceed with electrification along the entire route.

Burnham responded to the claim: “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.

“If today’s report is not true, the government needs to make that clear immediately. Failure to do so will continue to erode trust in the whole concept of a Northern Powerhouse.”

However, a DfT spokesperson told the Guardian that no announcement is due to be made. They said the department is working with Network Rail and Transport for the North to determine the best way to achieve major improvements as part of the £3bn route upgrade programme.

“Network Rail has established options for infrastructure works that could deliver these improved journeys and we are considering these before making further decisions later this year,” added the DfT.

Last week, the Transport Select Committee released a report arguing that announcing funding for Crossrail 2 only four days after the cancellation of three electrification schemes shows that the government is focusing in certain areas of the country over others.

Lillian Greenwood, chair of the Committee, said: “Some regions have faced decades of under-investment in their parts of the rail network. They deserve to have a clear sense of what the government is doing to help them attract transport investment and grow economically.

“The Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine will struggle to live up to their names without tangible change.”

The committee has also recommended that the electrification schemes be categorised as ‘pending’ and placed in the Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline until a reduction in cost can be worked out.

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Image credit: wcjohnston, iStock Images

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