The Conservative government have been accused of “betrayal” after Schapps, the transport secretary, revealed that improvements to the Manchester to Leeds rail-line are to be cut back and the leg of HS2 connecting the Midlands and Leeds will be scrapped. The high-speed HS2 line will still travel to Manchester from London but would not be completing the previously promised journey connecting it to the East via Leeds.
The HS2 line was first announced in 2009 and since then its costs have spiralled from an estimated £20 billion to £96 billion in the past ten years.
The third phase of the line connecting Leeds to the Midlands would also be scrapped, instead being replaced with a package that would ‘transform rail services’, with the intention of making rail journeys up and down the country faster and cheaper for passengers.
HS2 phase 1, 2a, and 2b are all still expected to go ahead, but rather than a complete overhaul, the Manchester to Leeds line connected by Northern Powerhouse Rail will be getting minor track upgrades, intended to make journeys faster.
A new longer station able to accommodate the 400m long trains will be built next door to Manchester Picadilly. Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands has suggested that current train times from Manchester to London would be cut from 2 hours, 11 minutes to 1 hour, 9 minutes and the Manchester to Leeds would be cut from 50 to 35 minutes.
The new plan received heavy backlash from a flurry of politicians with Andy Burnham stating that “The North of England is united and will hold the government to promises on a railway line connecting the Northern region.” The shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said that the government had “sold out the North.”
Boris Johnson responded to claims that he had broken promises on Northern railway upgrades by labelling such claims as “total rubbish”. Instead, he suggested that new plans would see a cut in train times but that plans to build new train lines would take “decades”, also suggesting the government wanted to maximise efficiency.
However, the 2019 conservative manifesto, on which Boris Johnson was elected, stated: “We will build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester and then focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Hull and Sheffield, and Newcastle.”
Questions were also raised on where the money pledged in the £96 billion package would come from as some money has already been promised to the rail sector in the form of £360 million for new ticketing systems across the country. A full costing and explanation of where the money would be used is still to be announced.