Boris Johnson’s revised rail plan faces backlash in northern England

Boris Johnson has unveiled the dramatic downsizing of his two flagship high-speed rail projects in the north of England to save tens of billions of pounds in spending in exchange for smaller improvements that make local leaders angry side.

The Prime Minister is scrapping two-thirds of the HS2 section that runs from Birmingham to Leeds as well as easing plans for the Northern Factory Railway, a project aimed at improving links between cities in the region.

The changes, announced as part of the government’s £96billion Integrated Rail Plan, will hit Leeds and Bradford hardest and risk undermining the government’s upgrade agenda. government.

On Thursday, Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, joined the chorus of criticism of the prime minister for breaching his pledge to provide adequate high-speed rail links to the north of England. .

He told the House of Commons: “HS2 has always been a white elephant, but far from the east coast it has become a white elephant with a leg missing. “We were promised it would ease congestion on the main East Coast line as it would go to Leeds. Where is that promise? ”

However, some of the smaller improvements have been welcomed by advocacy groups, which say they will significantly benefit faster local transport.

The government says the scheme includes £54bn in spending on local rail and transport in the Midlands and North and £42bn has been earmarked for HS2 phases from London to the West Midlands and Crewe.

The Northern Mills Association, a group of civic and business leaders, estimates the Integrated Rail Plan has cut £36 billion from the cost of the entire HS2 and their vision of Rail Northern.

The plan marks the return of a large-scale expansion of HS2, to which the prime minister pledged “whole” as last year.

The scheme was first sold – more than a decade ago – as an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow that would run from Scotland and connect to existing high-speed rail linking to Europe but is currently not any connection.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that the east leg of HS2, which links Birmingham to Leeds, would be virtually scrapped. Instead, part of the line will only run as far as the East Midlands Parkway, a station near Nottingham.

Treasury is increasingly concerned about delays and rising costs on the project. Subsequent reports by public expenditure watchdog has warned that there is little clarity on the price level, which has spanned at least £100bn.

The map shows the new shape of HS2 and the northern power.  The east leg of HS2 has been scrapped and part of the proposed NPR route between Manchester and Bradford has been downgraded

The first phase of the line, from London to Birmingham, is under construction but National Audit Office Last year’s report warned that only 5 to 10 per cent of plans for a second phase beyond Birmingham had been completed.

Large portions of the eastern leg pose a major engineering challenge as they will have to traverse old coal mines and major population centers while crossing a network of motorways dozens of times.

Instead, Network Rail, which manages the existing rail infrastructure, will control a series of improvements to older lines.

Ministers said the plan meant doubling or tripling passenger capacity on many routes.

But for some lines, this gain will be much less than what they had under the previous strategy. Passenger capacity on the London to Leeds route will now be half what it used to be if the eastern leg of HS2 is fully built.

Instead, Leeds will get some solace, including the electrification of the Midland Main Road running from London through Nottingham and Sheffield to Leeds, as well as an initial £200m investment in a new 2bn urban tram network board for the city. “Currently, Leeds is the largest city in Western Europe with no metro or light rail,” said one government figure.

Tony Travers, director of a research group at the London School of Economics, said there would be “winners and losers even in the north”.

“It will not bring as much capacity and speed as the original HS2 has done in many places but in some cases it will bring improvements to their existing rail line that is better than HS2 and arrives at the destination. faster if all can be delivered.”

Paul Tuohy, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said there was “a lot to welcome”, including commitments to local transport such as the Leeds tube, which would make “a difference”. really special for everyday trips”. He added: “The improvements must be made as quickly as possible and at a reasonable cost.

Shapps highlighted the time savings of the journey from Birmingham to Nottingham from 75 minutes to 26 minutes, while the journey from York to Manchester would be reduced from 83 minutes to 55 minutes.

But the changes have been met with fury from Northern MPs and business leaders.

“What the Northern leaders have proposed is a vision of economic transformation,” said Henri Murison, director of the Northern Mills Association. “What we have, as always, is second-rate.”

Tracy Brabin, Labor Mayor of West Yorkshire, said: “Today’s announcement of the Integrated Rail Plan is a betrayal of the North and a betrayal of the government’s leveling promise.” “This is not leveling up.”

Bradford will be hit hardest by the decision to scale back plans for the Northern Factory Railroad.

The original vision for the project, which included an all-new line from Leeds to Manchester, costing £39 billion, would be to be replaced by a hybrid model.

The new £17.2 billion plan will involve a new route from Manchester to Marsden near Huddersfield but will only upgrade the existing Transpennine service from there to Leeds.

The hybrid is still expected to cut the journey time from Leeds to Manchester from 53 minutes to 33 minutes, almost the 29 minutes it should have done with an all-new high-speed route.

But the route will pass through Bradford, which the local council says has the worst rail links of any major UK city.

Lord Jim O’Neill, a former Tory minister who is vice-president of the Northern Mills Association, said the announcement was “obviously sad” for the people of Bradford.

To compensate, the existing line between Bradford and Leeds will be upgraded, halving the journey time to 12 minutes. Even so, O’Neill says that for a city of more than half a million people, it is “abandoned once again. . . It doesn’t make any sense.”

The government also announced it was spending £3.5 billion to improve the main East Coast line from London to York and Edinburgh.

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