The Prime Minister’s promises on Northern Powerhouse Rail are a road to nowhere
After i revealed much of the big picture of Boris Johnson’s scaled-back rail plan earlier this week, there was little surprise yesterday when Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stood up in the Commons to confirm that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail would be downgraded.
My home city of Leeds was one of the biggest losers, with no direct connection to any of the new high-speed track – instead relying on an old route upgrade before accessing the new line that started mysteriously on the “western border of Yorkshire”, continued to Manchester, and ended somewhat strangely in Warrington, Cheshire.
After Mr Shapps later revealed the starting point as Marsden, a quick Google Maps search showed it was bang in the middle of the Pennines that stand between Leeds and Manchester.
It was a great illustration of the half-and-half approach settled on by the Prime Minister, and it made it easy to understand the disappointment among those people that were expecting a high-speed “Crossrail” for the North from Liverpool to Hull, as the PM suggested in 2019.
This is the crux of the problem faced by Mr Johnson on this Integrated Rail Plan – it simply is not what he promised, or being charitable, it is not what he led people, including his own MPs, to interpret as his promise, perhaps with an eye on election victory.
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Because £56bn of investment in rail in the North and Midlands is not to be sniffed at. A journey time of 33 minutes from Leeds to Manchester is a dramatic improvement and only slightly longer than originally envisaged.
But people were expecting a lot, lot more. And there remain big questions around whether it will deliver much-needed extra capacity and the key benefits any earlier than the more ambitious original proposals.
My home city of Leeds was one of the biggest losers, with no direct connection to any of the new high-speed track