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What is the next destination for Britain's railways?

What is the next destination for Britain's railways?

The government has announced a significant transport investment programme focusing on Britain's rail network. Here's a look at the key points and what the future of Britain's railways could look like...

 

What are the headline announcements?

The government has described its new Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) as the "biggest ever government investment in Britain's rail network". The plan contains a £96 billion package to support rail construction and upgrades for the Midlands and the North.

The main improvements and upgrades are focused on cutting journey times with new high-speed lines, while some lines will also be fully electrified. 

 

What is the detail around the plans and what is actually set to change?

Some of the key details are as follows;

  • HS2 will be completed from Crewe to Manchester, with new stations at Manchester Airport and Manchester Picadilly
  • Northern Powerhouse Rail will be delivered through a new high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Marsden in Yorkshire
  • A new high-speed line will be between Birmingham and East Midlands Parkway
  • The Midland Mainline and Transpennine Main Line will be electrified, and the East Coast Main Line will see 'rapid' upgrades
  • Money will be freed up to improve local services and to integrate them with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR)

However, some feel that the plans are short of previous promises, with HS2 plans being downgraded. Plans for HS2 were previously due to connect the capital with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, but the eastern leg to Leeds has been scrapped.

 

What has been said about the plan?

Speaking about the plan, Prime Boris Johnson said;

"Better rail connections are essential for growing local economies and businesses, and our Integrated Rail Plan will deliver better services to more people, more quickly.

"Levelling up has to be for everyone, not just the biggest cities. That’s why we will transform transport links between our biggest cities and smaller towns, ensuring we improve both long-distance and vital local services and enabling people to move more freely across the country wherever they are."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the plan "will create a modern, expanded railway fit for today and future generations", adding that "significant improvements will be delivered rapidly, bringing communities closer together, creating jobs and making places more attractive to business".

Many opposition MPs have though been less supportive of the plans, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Sir Keir said; 

"This could have been a once-in-a-generation chance to futureproof our transport networks, bettering the chances of meeting our climate change pledges and allowing people to find good, skilled jobs without having to move hundreds of miles from their hometown.

"A chance to make good on the now laughably hollow promise to ‘level up’. Continuing to peddle that vacuous phrase after this week would be nothing short of holding people in contempt."

In a tweet, SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford said;

"Boris Johnson has broken his promise on #HS2 and left Scotland at the back of the queue. Just like the cancelled £20bn bridge to Ireland, the missing £1bn carbon capture investment, and the broken pledge that our EU membership was protected - you can’t trust Westminster’s word."

 

Why does it matter?

Rail improvements and upgrades matter not only because nobody likes delays and long journey times. Better ail links can improve productivity and connectivity to different parts of the country, which can, in turn, help the economy. Travelling by rail compared to other forms of transportation is also often seen as a more eco-friendly way to travel, with much of Britain's rail network now electrified and using nuclear and renewable energy.