Rail campaigners in Halifax have voiced their anger after plans for electrification and capacity improvements in the North of England now look to be in doubt.
Ministers were accused of backtyracking on their pledge to close the North-South divide after plans to electrify a key rail route between Yorkshire and the capital were scrapped.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted the upgrade to the Midland Main Line to Sheffield, which already faced delays, was no longer needed because better trains would achieve improvements to journey times.
Plans to electrify routes in Wales and the North West were also binned, raising new questions about the Government’s commitment to electrification.
The Halifax and District Rail Action group believe this will now raise serious doubts over improvements in Calderdale.
Stephen Waring, chair of HADRAG said electrification apart, there are also serious concerns that vital elements of the Northern Hub project in Manchester and the TransPennine Route Upgrade might not now go ahead.
This could limit the capacity available to enhance services on the Calder Valley line and through Brighouse to Huddersfield and Leeds.
“At a time when we are all concerned about air quality and combatting climate change, when road vehicles are getting greener, it seems crazy that the Government seems to be abandoning railway electrification in favour of putting dirty diesel engines on electric trains.
“Diesel bimodes are heavier and consume more energy than pure electrics, they are noisier and more polluting, and may not match the performance of electrics on hilly Pennine routes.
“The Calder Valley Line was top recommendation of the Northern Electrification task force a couple of tears ago.
“Instead of abandoning this, a rolling programme is needed to extend the wires across the North. We shall continue to campaign for electrification.
“Meanwhile there are more immediate concerns about capacity enhancements.
“The good news is that the Ordsall curve, part of the Northern Hub project in Manchester, is due to be completed at the end of this year and will allow Calder Valley trains to run to Manchester Airport.
“But the Northern Hub project also included additional tracks and platforms through Manchester Piccadilly station, vital if the new cross-Manchester trains serving our line are going to get a decent timetable.
“Apparently the Department for Transport is apparently now to reconsider this. We say this extra capacity must go ahead.
“On the route from Manchester to Leeds via Huddersfield we are expecting the TransPennine Route Upgrade project to deliver capacity enhancements that, we believe, should also help Calder Valley services via Brighouse.
“We think these enhancements could involve extra tracks into Huddersfield and through Mirfield towards Dewsbury.
“Again we see this as vital to develop better services from the upper Calderdale via Elland and Brighouse to Huddersfield and Leeds. Even if they don’t electrify the whole route, they have to deliver this additional capacity.
“We certainly intend, once again, to make our voice heard at the DfT.”
Last week’s announcement that long-running plans to electrify the Midlands mainline up to Sheffield had been scrapped sparked outrage among local leaders.
Their anger was only enhanced when Mr Grayling hinted on Friday that parts of the trans-Pennine electrification project could also be abandoned.
The DfT cited the development of new technology as a key factor in their decision. However, the confirmation of support for the £30bn London Crossrail 2 scheme has given rise to claims that the flagship project is being funded “at the expense” of projects in the rest of the UK.
This has also called into question the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse agenda.
Keith Wakefield, chairman of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport committee, said: “While we welcome the understanding that upgrading the trans-Pennine route is still on the table, we will be seeking reassurance that the Government’s plans are still based upon the electrification of the line, which will provide the optimum improvements in terms of journey times for people travelling between Huddersfield, Leeds, York, Manchester and beyond.
“We will also be pressing for confirmation that electrification of the Calder Valley line between Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Manchester, and the Leeds Harrogate line, which was recommended as recently as 2014 by former Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin’s Electrification Task Force, remain part of the government’s plans to rebalance the economy.
“In 2014, then Prime Minister David Cameron said that better links across the Pennines would “make the most of the economic strength we have got in Leeds and Manchester and other cities besides” but in 2015 Chris Grayling’s predecessor Patrick McLoughlin put the work on hold along with the Midland Mainline scheme.”
Responding to recent speculation in the Sunday Times that the Government was planning to delay TransPennine electrification again Coun Wakefield said: “If Transport secretary Chris Grayling is preparing to delay the upgrade of this crucial rail link, it really does raise a question mark about the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and narrowing the economic gap between north and south.”
“Just weeks ago Mr Grayling was in Halifax on the general election campaign trail making assurances about the government’s transport plans for the north but now, post-election it looks like he’s about to kick the trans-Pennine upgrade into the long grass.
“What we need to see now is Ministers reaffirming, in no uncertain terms, their commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and the investment needed to make it a reality.”