The great train robbery

Date:1st June 2015. Picture James Hardisty, (JH1008/75a) Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, visiting the site of Kirkstall Forge Station, off Kirkstall Road, Leeds.
Date:1st June 2015. Picture James Hardisty, (JH1008/75a) Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, visiting the site of Kirkstall Forge Station, off Kirkstall Road, Leeds.

The government’s pre-election promises to upgrade rail-lines in West Yorkshire have been shelved by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

The scheme was given the go-ahead by Mr McLoughlin in March this year following recommendations from the Rail Electrification Taskforce to upgrade the Calder Valley Line between Leeds and Manchester and the Harrogate Line between York and Manchester by 2024.

Rail electrification

Rail electrification

The upgrades would have seen faster rail times, higher line capacity and more efficient trains - lowering the cost of running them and reducing their impact on the environment.

Mr McLoughlin announced in the Commons that the electrification schemes had been “paused” as part of a wider review of Network Rail’s £38 billion investment plan.

But he said the electrification of the Great Western Line which reaches London, Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff was still “a top priority.”

Shadow transport secretary, Michael Dugher accused the government of misleading the electorate in the run-up to the General Election by making promises ministers knew they couldn’t keep.

He said: “We have been warning time and time again there needs to be fundamental changes in how our railways are run.

“You spent the election campaign repeating promises you knew you would break after the election.

“Ministers may try to shift all the blame to Network Rail, but this happened on the government’s watch and the responsibility for this mess lies squarely with the government.

“The government’s failure to deliver a fit-for-purpose railway for passengers and the Tories’ broken election promises have been completely exposed.

He added: “The Government’s failure to deliver a decent, modern railway for Yorkshire has exposed the Tories’ broken election promises.”

Mr McLoughlin said the schemes had been halted because of excessive spending by Network Rail and the decision could not have been avoided.

Paula Sherriff, Labour MP for Dewsbury and Mirfield, said she was unconvinced that the government only just knew that the scheme was undeliverable.

She said: “My constituents deserve an explanation as to why they were misled by the government.

“Simply passing the buck onto Network Rail will not do and will certainly not install faith in politicians.

“This is yet another failed promise from the Conservative government who shout about a ‘northern powerhouse’ but then once again leave the north starved of investment.”

Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield, was Shadow Transport Secretary last year and said she raised concerns how the schemes would be funded on numerous occasions during the last parliament.

She said: “Long-suffering Yorkshire commuters are being told improvements on the Transpennine route are ‘paused’ which is another way of saying ‘cancelled’. Ministers have lost control of the electrification scheme.”

Stephen Waring, chair of the Halifax and District Rail Action Group (HADRAG), said: “The Department for Transport must have known about this for many months and there have been a number of reports that planning of TransPennine electrification via Huddersfield and the ‘Diggle route’ had stalled. HADRAG members discussed this at their committee meeting two weeks ago, and we are about to write to both Network Rail and the Secretary of State.

“The worry is that if Huddersfield Line electrification is ‘paused’ for replanning this will in turn delay proposals to electrify the Calder Valley line.

“Electrification through Calderdale from Leeds to Manchester and Preston via Halifax and Brighouse was top recommendation of the Northern Electrification Task Force for completion during 2019-2024, the five-year planning period known in rail circles as “CP6”. Not many weeks ago that seemed like an election promise.”