In an interview with the Manchester Evening News, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has suggested that Manchester may receive upgrades to it’s rail network, and hints that the upcoming budget may allow for the construction of high-speed rail links in the North. His comments come several weeks after the government announced its plans to nationalise Northern Rail due to persistent poor performance.
During the interview, the Minister claimed that nationalisation will not act as a “silver bullet” for the problems with railways in the North and meaningful changes would not manifest immediately, suggesting that significant change can only come from greater changes to infrastructure. He claims the plan of the Government is to now regain the trust of the public and “reset” the rail network in the region following the meltdown of services which occurred in May 2018 after the imposition of new timetables.
When asked about potential service cuts, the Minister did not rule them out completely but suggested they would not happen yet, claiming “it’s really early days”.
The Minister expressed his confidence in Operator of Last Resort – the government team tasked with running Northern’s services – in delivering improvements to rail networks in the North as part of a 100 day-plan. The specifics of this plan were not divulged in interview but the Minister mentioned that a deep-clean of existing train stock would be taking place.
Plans that aim to improve the rail services which currently cause delays in the centre of the Manchester Rail Network were originally drawn five years prior but have subsequently gone nowhere. Heaton-Harris claimed the government intends to invest significant amounts of money to improve an “infrastructure that is stretched to its limits”.
The Rail Minister also spoke optimistically about the Northern Powerhouse Rail, a £39 billion plan for high speed rail links across the North. He was “sure that the ambition is absolutely there” and that more information regarding the project would be revealed after the Chancellor’s budget is released in March.
The Tory Government’s election manifesto only promised to fund one section of this speed rail project, running between Manchester and Leeds, and is so far the only line to have been green lit by the Government for development. However, Chancellor Sajid Javid has claimed that the government could afford to fund the entire project.