Passengers and freight operators across the north and Midlands could see faster, greener and more reliable rail services, with the government announcing a £401m funding boost into the railways today. (26/5/21).
The investment of £317m into the Transpennine route upgrade aims to boost punctuality, reliability and connectivity for passengers between York, Leeds and Manchester, and £69m of improvements to increase freight capacity between the Port of Southampton and the Midlands aims to boost economic growth.
The bulk of the new funding into the Transpennine route upgrade will be used to improve connectivity between Leeds, Manchester and York, and deliver electrification and upgrades between York and Church Fenton. Proposals for even more extensive electrification on the route are also currently being considered.
£15m from the new stations fund will also build new stations at Marsh Barton in Exeter, and White Rose and Thorpe Park in Leeds, to connect communities, support retail growth, improve access to employment and leisure, and support greener travel choices.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Modernising and upgrading our vital transport links is critical to levelling up every part of this country, unleashing our economy and spreading opportunity as we build back better. Following closely after our reforms to deliver a modern, green and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation, this package of £401 million investment will help deliver reliable, punctual services that passengers across the UK can count on.”
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “The scale of today’s investment demonstrates our commitment to delivering more punctual, greener and comfortable services right across the country. From the vital Transpennine and Midland Main Line upgrades, new stations giving communities in Yorkshire and the south-west rail connections for the first time, and a shot in the arm for freight operators, we’re building a brighter future for the railways.”
Transport minister Andrew Stephenson said: “Additional investment into the Transpennine Route Upgrade will cut delays and create a more punctual network, with electrification helping deliver greener journeys on this key route. Only by investing in, modernising and expanding our railways can we provide passengers with the reliable and resilient services they expect, and create a transport network that is fit for the future.”
Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), welcomed the news but called for even speedier progress on electrification in the race to net zero. He said: “We hope the announcement today is the start of an extensive programme to electrify the UK’s railway lines around the country. As RIA’s Rail Decarbonisation 2021 campaign highlights, a rolling programme of cost-effective electrification – coupled with government support and fleet orders for hydrogen and battery trains – will be essential if the UK is to hit its goals of decarbonising rail by 2040 and securing Net Zero by 2050.
“RIA also welcomes investment in new stations in the south-west and increasing the capacity on lines as part of Oxford Phase 2 project. By improving connectivity for communities across the country, and continuing to enhance the rail network with intensified electrification for example, UK rail really can support the government’s ‘build back better’ agenda, boosting jobs, investment and economic growth for UK plc, at this critical time.”
The announcement, however, has been criticised by Labour’s shadow rail minister Tan Dhesi, who said the news fell far short of a fully integrated rail plan. “This announcement is no substitute for the long awaited and postponed integrated rail plan which must be published now and must involve a rolling programme of electrification, not delivering in dribs and drabs, which ends up costing the British taxpayer more,” said Dhesi.