Grant Shapps on why the railway has a critical role to play in Sheffield and the North

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gives The Star his views on the future of rail in the north of England and how crucial he believes it is to ‘levelling up’...

By Grant Shapps MP
Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 9:58 am
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

It is unsurprising that HS2 has a much higher media profile than the Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU). In fact, if you Google HS2, you’ll generate thirteen times more online search results than Transpennine.

And yet, for the many Northern communities it serves, the TRU remains a critically important infrastructure programme. Not just those directly along the 76-mile line between Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York – but the many more communities on routes to Sheffield, Preston, Bradford, Barnsley and Newcastle who benefit from links to the Transpennine railway.

Building a new, national high speed railway is crucial to levelling up our country. But just as important is improving existing connections, which link villages and towns with suburbs and cities. And they don’t come more important than the Transpennine Route, which last week received another £317 million funding boost from the Government to make sure work remains on track. That’s in addition to the £589 million I announced for the scheme last summer.

The TRU includes some of the busiest stretches of railway in the North, so the investment will help us increase capacity, relieve bottlenecks and make services more reliable. It will also help us deliver faster journeys, greater resilience, and better stations. It means we can move forward with electrifying over 50% of the route, including sections between Manchester and Stalybridge, Huddersfield and Leeds, and Church Fention and York. We are currently exploring full electrification of the route, further station upgrades and digital signalling in the future. But in the meantime, work on the latest improvements will begin immediately.

Meanwhile, we’ve also completed work on the first phase of the £1.5 billion Midland Main Line upgrade, a project with significant implications for passengers in the North. It means faster services for commuters, reducing peak journey times from Sheffield to London St Pancras to just over two hours.

Delivering this new infrastructure to improve services and reliability for passengers alongside a major overhaul in the timetable on the main line was completed smoothly, thanks to close collaboration between Network Rail and train operators. Further upgrades to the line will allow for new, hybrid Intercity trains to operate. And to support greener travel, my Department is working closely with Network Rail to look at electrification of the whole route.

Getting large infrastructure schemes funded and built is a huge task. But before that can happen, we have to make sure each project fits our wider vision for the network, maximising benefits for passengers and freight operators. New lines must dovetail with old ones, and be cost effective – which also means they should be built as efficiently as possible.

This is complex work. But soon we will be in a position to set out our detailed plans for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in the North.

Whilst HS2 was originally planned to be a long-term project, taking several decades to bring benefits, we think we can bring that forward substantially by building in a smarter way. This is the work we’ve called our Integrated Rail Plan, which will be published and will look at how best to deliver HS2 Phase 2b, Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and other major Network Rail programmes.

The railway has a critical role to play in Sheffield and the North’s future more generally, just as it has in its past. That means not only linking major cities with fast, reliable transport connection, but also ensuring that towns and communities across the region can benefit from a better railway. The decisions we’re taking now will create a legacy of world class connectivity and economic prosperity across the North for future generations, and we’re determined to get them right.