Labour has accused the Government of creating a north-south divide on the railways, after axing electrification of the Leeds-Manchester line while going ahead with Crossrail 2 in London.
The party claims cancelling an upgrade of the TransPennine and other routes will lengthen journey times, increase carbon emissions and raise the cost of the rail network.
The blow for the north has been doubly controversial because it coincided with the go-ahead for a new £30bn Crossrail 2 scheme in London and the South East.
And it was followed within days by a proposal from the Government to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2040 and force drivers to switch to electric cars.
Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham claims people in the north are having to put up with sub-standard rail services while the Government treats London as a priority.
And now the Labour Party says that by u-turning on electrification, the Tories are pulling the plug on the proposed “Crossrail for the Northern Powerhouse” project.
Image: The first Crossrail trains will run in December 2018
The party claims cancelling rail electrification projects around the country will mean longer journey times between:
Manchester and Liverpool (nearly 30 minutes)
Leeds and Newcastle (over 20 minutes)
Cardiff to Swansea (up to 19 minutes on the Super Express from London)
Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow transport secretary said: “The Government’s disgraceful u-turn on their promise to deliver electrification on the Midland Mainline, Trans-Pennine and Great Western routes will threaten economic growth in areas of England and Wales already suffering from poor connectivity and under-investment.
“Pulling the plug on electrification shows the Tories’ disregard for Wales and Yorkshire, which will continue to suffer from underinvestment, and proves the ‘Midlands Engine’ and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ are just more empty slogans from this Government.
“The Tories are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by claiming that diesel bi-mode trains will deliver the same benefits as electrification, despite saying for years that failure to electrify the network costs more in the long run, causes more pollution, worsens air quality, lessens capacity and makes services slower and less reliable.”
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Labour says Network Rail estimates that electrification and the running of electric vehicles could help reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 20-30% compared to their diesel counterparts.
And it claims the maintenance costs for electric trains are 33% lower than for diesel.
The party also says Network Rail estimates that electric passenger vehicles fuel savings are between 19 and 26 pence per vehicle mile.
But a Department for Transport spokesman hit back: “The Government is completely committed to improving services for passengers in every part of the country – and to suggest otherwise is nonsense.
“By investing in new train technology, we’re able to deliver all the benefits of electrification, but without the disruption of massive engineering works.
“We’re spending £55.7bn building HS2, which will provide a massive boost to the Northern Powerhouse by better connecting it to London and the Midlands.
“And we’re completely committed to working with Transport for the North as they develop their proposals for a high-speed Northern Powerhouse rail service across the Pennines.”
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Last week, after the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling gave the go-ahead for Crossrail 2, Mr Burnham said the announcement would cause “widespread anger” in the North.
“It will not escape people’s notice that this commitment to London comes just days after the Transport Secretary cancelled electrification schemes all over the country,” he said.
“It raises the question of whether taxpayers everywhere else outside of London are paying to make Crossrail 2 viable.”
Rail unions have condemned the Government’s diesel car ban in light of the scrapping of plans to electrify parts of the rail network.
Mick Cash, the RMT’s general secretary, said the ban “exposes the rank hypocrisy of their decision to shelve long-planned rail electrification works”.