TRANSPORT secretary Chris Grayling is releasing up to £5 million of investment from a £450 million Digital Railway fund so that Network Rail can investigate options for upgrading the Transpennine route for more efficient digital operation.
The line between Manchester, Leeds and York had been a firm candidate for electrification, but Mr Grayling indicated in July that ’discontinuous’ wiring was now more likely, which would mean bi mode trains would be needed on the route to cover the unelectrified gaps.
That change of plan was greeted with anger in the north, with Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham saying the ‘patience of people in the North of England has run out’. A summit of transport and business leaders was then held in Leeds, but the transport secretary was not invited.
With the Conservative Party annual conference now only a few days away in Manchester, Mr Grayling is saying he wants the north to ‘lead the way’.
He is telling a meeting of business leaders in Manchester today that “we are about to see a digital revolution in our railways, and we want the north to lead the way.
“New technology on the Manchester to York route will help us deliver a more reliable and safer railway, with more space for passengers.
“Travel will be transformed across the north as we invest £13 billion to improve journeys, expand our motorways, scrap the outdated Pacer trains, and spend £55bn in HS2 to cut journey times between our great northern cities.”
Although the DfT is referring to ‘in cab’ signalling in its announcement today, it will not be clear for some time just which technologies could be used. Some industry commentators are doubtful about the possibilities of full-scale ERTMS, because the route is extremely busy and a large number of trains and locomotives would need to be converted. So far, ERTMS and its component ETCS have only been used in Britain on the mid-Wales lines west of Shrewsbury and under test conditions on the Hertford Loop.
Stephen Joseph of the Campaign for Better Transport said: “We welcome the Government's commitment to invest in the TransPennine rail route, after doubts had been raised over whether investment would continue. However, passengers and communities across the North will want to see detail and timescales about exactly what this will mean in practice, and when they can expect quicker and more frequent services.”
Some of Mr Grayling’s opponents have been more outspoken.
Labour shadow transport minister Rachael Maskell said passengers in the region ‘won’t be fooled’, because electric trains would be able to accelerate rapidly and would be ‘environmentally cleaner’. She added: “The wider upgrades that the transport secretary refers to would have also been part of the Transpennine upgrade, and while we need to ensure that these go ahead, it is no compromise for full electrification.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "No amount of spin and re-hashed commitments can hide the fact that this secretary of state is both anti-rail and regionally biased. His speech today just reeks of hypocrisy and hot air at a time when safety and modernisation are being sacrificed in the names of private profit and austerity.”