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West Yorkshire to agree £3bn ‘whole route ethos’ investment in ECML

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) is soon expected to agree to plan its part in investing £3bn in a ‘whole route ethos’ of upgrades to the East Coast Main Line (ECML), as authorities prepare to pave the way for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

The combined authority, which represents cities such as Leeds, Bradford and York, also confirmed in a board paper ahead of a meeting this Thursday that, in the wake of the Hendy Review, it will look to deliver short-term investment in the line to enable TOCs – such as Virgin Trains East Coast – to meet their service improvement commitments.

The paper revealed that, in the medium term, investment on a ‘whole route ethos’ from 2019 worth £3bn in upgrades to capacity, journey time improvements and resilience will be needed. This will require “significant expenditure” in the ECML from government and Transport for the North, though there “is scope for private sector and local government contributions”.

“Train operating companies serving West Yorkshire have a number of very positive plans for improvements to services in our area using the ECML, which will help support the Leeds City Region economy,” the board paper added.

“It will be highly important that the requisite rail infrastructure improvements that facilitate these and the committed service improvements of other train operating companies (e.g. Northern and TransPennine Express), are delivered in time.”

The ECML serves a vital function for the Leeds city-region as its main ‘trunk’ rail route to London and Scotland, also providing vital capacity for significant volumes of freight.

The WYCA is therefore mindful of the future requirements of the line, particularly due to its involvement in the development of NPR, HS2, and the short-term priorities of TOCs.

The paper stated that “significant capacity upgrades to the ECML” will be required to cater for the arrival of NPR, fitting with the region’s desire to have the project serve Leeds, Bradford and York.

The authority has concluded that it is important to prioritise these upgrades, particularly considering the government’s preferred option for HS2’s Phase 2b which will see the eastern leg of the route stopping at Leeds and its potential interconnectivity with NPR.

“Given that planning work is already underway by the rail industry to develop possible ECML upgrade solutions, and the recent HS2 Phase 2b Route Decision, it seems a logical step to press for ECML upgrade works to create the required capacity as an early intervention in creating the NPR network,” the authority said.

As members of the Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities (ECMA), the WYCA and Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) could also play a “greater advocacy” role in communicating to government the need for investment in the route, the paper added.

The authority is also planning its response to Network Rail’s East Coast Route Study when it is published for consultation in spring this year. However, it already anticipates that the strategy will largely focus on removing bottlenecks, adopting digital technology, building resilient infrastructure and broadening funding opportunities, amongst other issues.

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