Work on the first stages of the flagship Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme could start within five years, according to a long-term vision for the North set out by transport bosses today.
Transport for the North's finalised blueprint for the next three decades sets out an "ambitious but realistic" plan for how £70bn in infrastructure investment could transform the region and re-balance the national economy.
At the heart of its strategic transport plan is the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) programme to dramatically cut journey times between the major cities of the North, including a new high speed line connecting Leeds and Manchester via Bradford.
And TfN says work on some elements of NPR, such as improving the Leeds-to-Hull route and the Hope Valley Line connecting Sheffield and Manchester, could start as early as 2024 if the project is approved by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
Jonathan Spruce, TfN's interim strategy director, told The Yorkshire Post it would be "relatively easy" to get two trains an hour between Leeds and Hull and cut journey times below 45 minutes with track improvements and new rolling stock, if funding was available.
He said: "Northern Powerhouse Rail should not be seen as this long term scheme that is never going to happen, we think we can start on some aspects of it by 2024."
The strategic transport plan was first unveiled as a draft in 2018 and will be submitted to the Department for Transport if it is approved by political and business leaders at the next TfN board meeting on February 7.
After being launched in Sheffield on February 11 it will become a statutory document that the Government is legally obliged to consider when making policy or spending decisions.
It makes the case that by increasing spending on strategic transport by around £50 per person in the North each year to 2050, £100 billion in economic growth and 850,000 extra jobs can be generated for the North’s economy.
TfN's lack of tax-raising or revenue-generating powers means the ultimate decision on which of the projects get funding is in the hands of central government.
But it believes the requested £70bn fits in with the guidelines issued last summer by the influential National Infrastructure Commission, recommending that between one and 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product goes on infrastructure spending.
When extra spending on transport within northern towns and cities is included, TfN says the total cost between 2020 and 2050 will be between £100bn and £120bn.
Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said the document was "the start of a process in which the North takes ownership of its own destiny, gaining a greater say and greater control over the transport investments which will shape our future".
And Leeds city council leader Judith Blake, West Yorkshire Combined Authority's lead on transport, said the plan "makes the strong case for reversing years of underinvestment in our transport network across the North of England to help rebalance the national economy."
She said: “Northern Powerhouse Rail, serving Bradford, integrated with an upgraded trans-Pennine line, HS2 and local and regional services via a redeveloped Leeds Station will deliver transformational benefits to communities across the region and the wider North.”
The document contains short, medium and long-term plans for investment, with a link road to Leeds-Bradford Airport and improvements to freight capacity on the rail route between Doncaster and Immingham among the short-term measures needed to address current challenges.
The reopening of the historic Skipton-Colne rail link and the upgrade of the "missing link" of the A1 between Redhouse and Darrington in South Yorkshire are projects TfN says "could and should have a start made on their delivery before 2027".
The £39bn plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail include a preference for a new line via Bradford, though it has yet to be decided whether this will feature a city centre or parkway station.
Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison described the plan as "a welcome first step to the investment of up to £120bn to truly deliver the transformational impact on the Northern Powerhouse economy that we so badly need".
He said: “We now must ensure that Northern Powerhouse Rail – the jewel in the crown of Northern infrastructure improvements – is given the green light, and that HS2 is brought to Leeds and Manchester.
"These major projects are not simply about cutting journey times, increasing frequency or enhancing capacity. They will create the opportunities our young people need to secure the skilled jobs of the future needed to transform our economy and eradicate the North-South divide.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “This government is committed to reversing decades of underinvestment in Northern transport and we will have invested a record £13bn in the region by 2020.
“We welcome the progress Transport for the North has made in finalising its Strategic Transport Plan which is a major milestone towards building the Northern Powerhouse. We will work closely with TfN while we carefully consider its plans."