Shocking rail pause leaves us steaming

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There are few issues which have sparked such howls of protest from so many senior figures – but the potential impact of greater rail electrification is huge.

Sorry, was huge.

The Government has announced a ‘pause’ in the £38bn project and the dreams of councils, business leaders and commuters across the North have hit the buffers.

Forget HS2, electrification of the Midland Mainline was due to arrive by 2020 – not 2032 – and at a fraction of the cost of the High Speed dream.

And faster trains across the North, between Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield were set to have an impact on millions.

Crucially, trains are a key component of the so-called Northern Powerhouse. Last week’s decision appears to have exposed that project as nothing more than a popular soundbite.

The twin pillars of the scheme were supposed to be devolution of funding and powers to ‘Our Great Cities Of The North’, as the Chancellor loves to say – and better transport links.

Sheffield City Region is in the vanguard of devolution – it was second after Manchester to secure a deal, received £320m from Government last year and is busy setting up executive boards to run skills, business growth, infrastructure, transport and housing.

But the other pillar of the Powerhouse – and one which really seemed to grab the popular imagination, was for the rail and road connections between cities including Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield – and others – to be so good they could operate as one economy and take on London and the world.

There was even talk of a tunnel under the Pennines to ‘complete the triangle’ of transport between Sheffield and Manchester and Leeds.

Sounds crazy, but CrossRail in London is on a smilar scale.

How hollow all that now sounds and millions will rightly feel cheated of the chance of something truly transformational.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the rail network wasn’t already desperately in need of investment.

But as Andrew Denniff, chief executive of Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber, says, they can’t be relied on even now.

He adds: “Network Rail and the Government must develop a robust plan to put the investment project back on track in short order. All talk of a Northern Powerhouse by the government is simply that – just talk.”