Fury as Northern Powerhouse Rail plan looks likely to be downsized again

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Politicians and rail experts have reacted furiously to confirmation that much of the promised high-speed Northern Powerhouse Rail project across the Pennines is to be scrapped once again.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto pledged: “We will build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester and then focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle.”

In 2021, the then transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the Yorkshire section of Northern Powerhouse Rail would not be built. His “Integrated Rail Plan” also ditched the eastern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds.

After Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as prime minister, she promised to build the high-speed rail link across the north of England. Ms Truss, who was in office for only 44 days, stressed that plans for a new station at Bradford had been resurrected, saying: “It will stop at Bradford. I’m very clear about that.”

But Mr Shapps, who is now the business secretary, told the BBC the project has, once again, been ditched – and that there “wasn’t really much point” in the original plan.

Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, tweeted: “Sixty times the Tories promised to level up the North with the rail infrastructure we need to grow our economy.

“While they break their promises, Labour will build the Elizabeth Line for the North we deserve.”

Mr Shapps said: “Across the Pennines, connecting places like Manchester to Leeds and bringing that journey down to half an hour – which is what we said we would do in that manifesto – is in fact happening already,” he said.

“The line itself can deliver a 33-minute journey from Manchester to Leeds, nearly quadruple the capacity of that line and do so without having to wait an extra 20 years beyond the delivery of what the upgrade can do.

“There wasn’t really much point in going and blasting new tunnels through the Pennines.”

The current fastest journey time between Manchester and Leeds is 50 minutes.

Nigel Harris, editor-in-chief of Rail magazine, called Mr Shapps a “world-class communicator of utter claptrap”.

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