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MAJOR WORRIES: TfN boss says rail rumours ‘deeply worrying’

MAJOR WORRIES: TfN boss says rail rumours ‘deeply worrying’

Transport for the North chief executive Martin Tugwell at the Angel of the North, Image: NCJ Media

Rumours that the government will water down promises to radically improve the North’s rail services are “deeply worrying”, a top transport boss says.

Martin Tugwell, chief executive of Transport for the North (TfN), has added his voice to major worries and anger across the region over an expected downgrade of the HS2 rail project and a new inter-city line.

The government is poised to release its long-delayed Integrated Rail Plan this week, with reports suggesting it will drop plans to build the full HS2 eastern leg to Leeds and only commit to upgrading the existing transpennine track rather than building a new ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ line between Leeds and Manchester.

TfN has called for the full delivery of both schemes in a bid to create significantly faster and more reliable train services across the North, paving the way for hundreds of thousands of new jobs to be created.

Mr Tugwell said: “If the rumours are true then it is deeply worrying because it means we won’t have the benefit of that comprehensive transformation of the rail network that will make the difference.”

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The catalyst for that is Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, connecting the towns and cities of the North in a way they are currently not. That’s where you get the transformation, that’s where you get the benefit for people and businesses.”

Local newspapers across the North have joined forces in a campaign demanding the government “finally put its money where its mouth is” and deliver on repeated rail investment promises, while politicians across the region have been left outraged after details of the downgraded plans emerged over the weekend.

During a visit to the North East on Tuesday, Mr Tugwell said there needed to be a “step change” by building new rail links rather than simply committing to piecemeal upgrades to existing routes.

The TfN boss, who confirmed he had not spoken to the government about its plans ahead of their expected confirmation on Thursday, added: “The North has, in essence, a two-track Victorian railway and it is carrying an incredible amount of trains and people and freight at the moment. If you are going to make the transformation then you need to have something extra.

“In many ways, one could argue it is the same argument that the government used in justifying the first phase of HS2. It was not about doing some tweaks to the West Coast Mainline, they recognised you needed a step change in capacity to be able to make the difference. The argument is the same in the North.

“We have a two-track railway carrying a lot of trains and we need to make the step change. That means investing in new lines as well as improving the existing ones.

“If all we are doing is a little bit of a tweak here and there then it is probably going to be more disruptive and you will not get that transformational change. And I don’t see it being delivered as a network that will connect Liverpool in the west to Hull in east, and that connects Sheffield with Newcastle and beyond. That is why this is so important.”

Downing Street has said that ministers “recognise the importance of improving transport links across the North as a way to level up the country, that’s why it is an absolute priority for the government”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Tuesday: “Grant Shapps will set out the full details on Thursday. But we are fully committed to strengthening the rail links in our cities, across the Midlands and the North. He recognises the importance of improving journey times across the country.”

 

Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter


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