Businesses challenge Chancellor on rail investment

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Businesses across Leeds have signed an open letter challenging Chancellor George Osborne to honour pre-election promises to upgrade the region’s railways.

The letter - the centrepiece of sister newspaper The Yorkshire Post’s Back On Track campaign - highlights growing concerns about delays to the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester and Sheffield to London routes.

Nearly 70 Yorkshire businesses backed the letter, which highlighted concerns that the announced “pause” to the schemes could become more than a temporary delay.

The Government confirmed work on TransPennine and Midland Mainline electrification would be halted last month.

Today, the letter’s signatories urged the Government to fulfil its promises on rail investment.

Paul Hamer, chief executive of Leeds-based infrastructure firm WYG, said the ambition of the Northern Powerhouse must be matched by funding.

He said: “Being connected on a local, regional and national level is absolutely fundamental to creating a Northern Powerhouse.”

The letter to Mr Osborne coincides with Sir Peter Hendy, London’s former Transport Commissioner, beginning work today as chairman of Network Rail.

His first job is to conduct a major review of the organisation’s £38bn rail investment programme after the cost of a number of schemes escalated.

Concerns began to be raised in December that the TransPennine project - the centrepiece of Mr Osborne’s 2011 Autumn Statement - would miss its 2018 completion date despite work taking place to upgrade the section linking Liverpool with Manchester.

This was repeatedly denied by the Prime Minister, who told MPs yesterday he only recently became aware of the problems.

Responding to a question from Bradford South MP Judith Cummins, Mr Cameron said: “No, I was told about this after the election as we’ve set out before.

“The point is now we need to do everything that we can to get to the bottom of the overspending and the engineering difficulties that there are...I think instead of griping and making these grievances, the whole House should get behind this programme and make sure we get on with it.”

Sir Peter’s review is due to be completed in the Autumn.

Gerald Jennings, president of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, said: “We would hope to see progress and an unpausing of investment.”


‘An arduous commute’ - Ismail Mulla, business reporter at The Yorkshire Post, on the trials of the TransPennine rail route

“As the train approaches Dewsbury train station the jostling begins.

“The prize is not so much a seat but having a space to stand in the morning during peak times. The huddle in front of the door parts, as a trickle of passengers climb off to be replace by a herd.

“This is the penultimate stop before Leeds for the First TransPennine Express service from Manchester.

“The big issue is the service’s lack of frequency, which adds to the overcrowding.

“The return journey can be just as uncomfortable. In the summer it feels like a furnace, in the winter an industrial freezer.

“What should be a simple, short hop for me is an uncomfortable journey. For those commuting further, it is an arduous trek.”