Campaigners are calling for promises to be kept after plans for the electrification of the Calder Valley line were left hanging in the balance.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin confirmed work is restarting to electrify the Trans-Pennine route connecting York to Manchester via Leeds and the Midland Mainline between Leeds and London.
Before the General Election a Government-commissioned taskforce was asked to recommend the next routes to undergo electrification which suggested the Calder Valley lines, should be prioritised.
But, speaking at Leeds station, Mr McLoughlin moved to temper expectations that those routes would be next in line for investment.
Campaigners in HADRAG, Halifax & District Rail Action Group, are concerned about progress with other projects benefiting the Calder Valley Line and calls for action to get promised speed and capacity improvements back on track ahead of electrification.
Stephen Waring explained: “It’s good that Huddersfield Line electrification is once again being planned, but this scheme that was originally to have been done before 2019 will not now be finished until the early 2020s.
“We sincerely hope the extra time will be used to build in extra capacity, restoring a four track railway between Huddersfield and near Dewsbury that could also benefit services that run through Brighouse.
“Meanwhile it’s even more vital we get the promised enhancements on the Manchester-Halifax-Bradford route. Both higher speeds to get journey times down and enhanced signalling to allow more frequent trains.
“Finally, Network Rail and the Government can surely not need reminding that our line was top-ranked for electrification by 2024 in the task force report earlier this year. This is another promise we expect to be kept.
“Back in the 1960s the USA took less than a decade to plan the Apollo missions and put men on the Moon. Britain’s railway should not take longer than that to plan and deliver relatively simple projects in the second decade of the 21st Century. We are trying to get a better railway, not get to Mars.”
Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group Nina Smith said As well as better train sets, both faster trains services and the opportunity to have a more intensive service serving more destinations are needed.
“Our research at Hebden Bridge last year showed a big demand for later evening services from Leeds and Manchester, earlier and more intensive Sunday services, and a direct service from the upper valley to Huddersfield. Electrification of all the lines would enable a circular service from Manchester Victoria via Rochdale, Hebden Bridge, Brighouse, Huddersfield, and Stalybridge to start by 2024, thus opening up a raft of new direct train travel opportunities.”
In March, the government taskfoce announced 12 lines across the north of England including six lines in Yorkshire should be pushed to the top of the list for the next round of electrification upgrades which will take place from 2019 to 2024.
However, they were paused just before the General Election.
Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker said: “This is great news for the people of Calder Valley and shows that the Government’s decision to temporarily pause the programme has provided the space to develop a better plan for passengers, delivering more services and faster journeys.
“The announcement is a demonstration of the Conservative’s One Nation approach, making sure that every part of Britain benefits from our growing economy.”
Calderdale’s Conservative party leader Stephen Baines said: People across West Yorkshire are already benefiting from the Government’s massive investment in rail across the North of England, and the Calderdale Line will follow.
“Connecting up the great cities of the North is at the heart of the Conservative’s plan to build a Northern Powerhouse. The total programme of rail electrification and upgrades will completely transform the railways for passengers in the North and Midlands.”
The Government faced a blizzard of criticism when it announced in June the two projects would be “paused” while Network Rail’s investment plans were reviewed.
Halifax MP Holly Lynch said: “Although completion dates have been pushed back, I am relieved that the Government has got electrification plans back on track after this summer’s ‘pause’ debacle.
“Earlier this year a cross-party taskforce set up to advise Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin deemed electrification of the Calder Valley line to be a top priority and this latest review is not clear whether those improvements will now go ahead.
“Today I have tabled a written parliamentary question asking the Government if and when it intends to deliver the task force’s recommendations.
“If Calderdale is to become a part of the Northern powerhouse, the Government must deliver these improvements.”
Calderdale Council’s Deputy Leader, Coun Barry Collins, said: “In Calderdale, our priority must be to continue pressing for the complementary electrification of the Calder Valley line, at the latest by 2024, to ensure our local communities fully benefit from new travel opportunities, quicker journeys, lower emissions and economic prosperity.
“In the meantime, the Council will be campaigning for preparatory improvements to line speeds and capacity in the Calder Valley and our connections through Brighouse to Huddersfield.”