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May 27, 2021

Transpennine Route Upgrade: Reactions from the industry

Announced yesterday, the UK Transpennine Route will see an investment of £317m to upgrade the railway system in Northern England, with investments in new stations and increased freight capacity. We look at the plan – which was highly praised at the government level – and find out why it received critiques from politicians and the industry alike.

By Ilaria Grasso Macola

The UK Government has announced a £317m investment to upgrade the Transpennine Route, improving services between York, Leeds and Manchester.

The plan, which was presented yesterday, includes a £15m investment for the opening of new stations in Leeds and the South West as well as £69m to increase freight capacity between the port of Southampton and the Midlands. Electrification upgrades will also be carried out between York and North Yorkshire.

“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,” commented Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

“Following closely after our reforms to deliver a modern, green and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation, this package of £401m investment will help deliver reliable, punctual services that passengers across the UK can count on.”

The investment is part of a bigger package worth £401m to improve the country’s connectivity and electrify the railway system, which is set to play a part in the UK Government’s plan to become net-zero by 2050.

The news comes less than a week after Shapps announced the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, a reform of the country’s railway system that sees the replacement of the railway franchising system.

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The political reaction

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris welcomed the upgrades on Transpennine Route saying that the scale of investments is a testament to the UK Government’s commitment to the railway sector.

“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,” he commented.

“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,” added Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson.

“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.”

Despite government support, the investment plan attracted a few criticisms. As reported by the Yorkshire Post, Labour Shadow Rail Minister Tan Dhesi condemned the lack of a timescale in the government’s plan.

“Communities want action, not just warm words and more promises from a party that regularly dithers and delays,” he said. “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.”

While praising the upgrade saying it will help communities get back on their feet post-Covid, Leeds City Council leader councillor James commented that the Transpennine Route Upgrade is just one piece of the puzzle and there is much more to do.

“We also urgently need clarity on plans for the eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail with a stop in Bradford, all of which would complement the work on the Transpennine route and help to further unlock the massive potential of communities across Leeds and beyond.”

The industry reaction

The transport industry’s reaction was overall positive with Transport for the North interim chief executive Tim Wood commenting that the investment “will deliver improvements both east and west of Leeds with works this summer set to support future electrification, an increase in train speeds across the Pennines and upgrades to the ageing infrastructure for the benefit of passengers.”

Wood highlighted that despite the encouraging premise, Transport for the North needed further clarity on the proposals, especially as regards the government’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands.

“Having a clear committed rail investment programme is a key pillar of the levelling-up agenda and its publication as soon as possible is critical if we are to avoid delays to major programmes like the Transpennine Route Upgrade, Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in the North,” Woods commented.

“We continue to believe that the Transpennine Route Upgrade should be wholly electrified and be fully gauged […] to support the North as a whole to reach its true economical potential.”

The Railway Industry Association (RIA) also insisted that electrification will help the country’s economic recovery post-Covid and will be fundamental to reach the 2050 environmental objectives.

“With the completion of electrification on the Midland Mainline – delivered to time and budget – a consistent profile of further electrification work will help retain the skills, expertise and capabilities needed in the industry, to build the world-class railway network the country needs as we move on from the Coronavirus pandemic,” said RIA chief executive Darren Caplan.

“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.”



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