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Northern Powerhouse hit by rail modernisation delays

Words: Huw Morris
Trans-Pennine route

The Northern Powerhouse programme has been dealt a body blow after the government shelved key regional rail projects following failures in Network Rail’s £38 billion modernisation plan.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that plans to electrify the Trans-Pennine route between Manchester and Leeds and Midland Mainline north of Bedford will be “paused” after Network Rail missed targets and its costs spiralled.

He said electrification of the Great Western line from London to the South-West and Wales would go ahead.

The Trans-Pennine scheme is a key aspect of the Northern Powerhouse, spearheaded by chancellor George Osborne, to connect major cities across the region. Osborne has described the scheme as HS3.

An electrified Midland main line had been mooted to cut journey times between Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham and London. The Conservative Party’s manifesto said the scheme would “put the Midlands at the centre of a modern, inter-connected transport network for the UK”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the decision to delay the schemes was “bad for regional growth and jobs”. She added: “How can the government expect to build a Northern Powerhouse if it is unwilling to stump up funds for vital transport links and infrastructure?”

Network Rail said it had “revisited” the costs of electrification and capital projects and found that these “have been higher than assumed at the earliest stages of definition”.

Its chairman, Richard Parry-Jones, has stepped down and will be replaced by London transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy.