Monday, June 29, 2015

News: Region reacts to rail project "pause"

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Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce believes that the North cannot afford to be left behind and is urging the Government to put together robust investment plans to improve transport infrastructure.

The comments come after work to electrify the Midland Mainline (MML), which links London and the Sheffield city region, was "paused" by the Government.

The scheme, which was set to deliver more seats, improved performance and more space for freight on one of Britain's oldest railways, was put on hold by Patrick McLoughlin MP, the Secretary of State for Transport. In a speech that highlighted where Network Rail's performance has not been good enough, he said that he was resetting Network Rail's investment programme to get it back on track.

Network Rail's plans included electrifying the Midland Mainline (MML) north of Bedford, working north. It was set to reach Corby at the end of 2017; Nottingham and Derby at the end of 2019 and Sheffield at the end of 2020.

Andrew Denniff, chief executive at Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce, said: "The decision to delay the upgrade of key railway lines in our region is not a complete surprise, I voiced my personal concerns the day after the election in May as to how the outcome would adversely affect South Yorkshire, and it would seem the real programme is now beginning to unravel.

"There is no escaping that our railway network is in desperate need of major investment. If we are to see the economic growth we aspire to, we need the infrastructure to support it. That means, amongst other things, the North needs to be served by a top class rail system, but what we currently have is nothing of the sort. Sadly, businesses and commuters will have to continue to get by with rail services which cannot be relied upon."

As Network Rail's estimated costs for the work reached £1.5 billion, the Transport Secretary hinted at other improvements to the line when he said that: "better services can be delivered on that line before electrification. With things such as speed improvement works."

Denniff added: "Network Rail and the Government must develop a robust plan to put the investment project back on track in short order. All current talk of a Northern Powerhouse by the Government is simply that - just talk."

Councillor Sir Stephen Houghton CBE, Chair of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, added: "Sheffield city region is extremely disappointed the Government has chosen to pause the long-awaited and much-needed investment in the electrification of the Midland Mainline railway.

"We urge Government to set a new deadline for when work will commence."

BR Chamber website

Images: Network Rail

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