POLITICS
25/06/2015 14:42 BST | Updated 25/06/2015 16:59 BST

Northern Railway Improvements 'Paused' By The Government As Costs Spiral

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
A multibillion pund project to improve Britain's railways has been paused

The Tories were accused of "stiffing" the North today after revealing billions of pounds of rail improvement work are to be "paused".

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlinmade the announcement today, and blamed Network Rail for the failure of the £38.5billion project.

Labour accused the Government of trying to “shift all the blame”, while Network Rail said the plans were too ambitious.

Public spending pressure group the TaxPayers' Alliance accused other the HS2 rail project of "cannibalising" funds which could be used to improve the existing train network.

Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher told The Huffington Post UK: "The Tories pretended to care about the North of England ahead of the general election. But as soon as they got the election out of the way, they've shown their true colours and have gone back to stiffing the north".

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) also blasted the Tories, with Ed Cox, director of IPPR North claiming today's announcement will cause serious harm to the Northern Powerhouse project.

He said:“Today’s announcement is troubling for the Northern economy and a major setback to the Northern powerhouse. Transport connections and infrastructure must be the foundation on which a prosperous Northern economy is built.

“The North already loses out substantially when it comes to public investment in its dated, poorly integrated and under-funded transport network. Now it will see projects already too far back in the queue fall further behind, which will hamper the area’s ability to grow and compete."

Speaking in the Commons today, Mr McLoughlin announced plans to electrify the Midland mainline and the route between Leeds and Manchester were among projects now “paused”.

Mr McLoughlin said: “Network Rail’s performance has not been good enough” and added: “Electrification is difficult, the UK supply chain for the complex signalling works needs to be stronger, construction rates have been slow.

“It has taken longer to obtain planning consents from some local authorities than expected.

“But that is no excuse. All of these problems could and should have been foreseen by Network Rail.”

The plans were originally announced in 2012, and deemed to be the most “ambitious [rail] programme since the Victorians.”

Justine Greening, the then-Transport Secretary, said the Government’s ambition was for 75 per cent of all rail journeys to take place on electrified trains.

While electrification of the Midland mainline and TransPennine routes have been paused, projects in the south east, including Crossrail and Thameslink, are well under way.

Speaking to the BBC, Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne, said keeping the railways running while carrying out improvement works was causing headaches.

He said: "Over the last year, it has become obvious that the challenges of operating, maintaining and enhancing the railway are significant.

"I think it's time to level with the public and say that some of these extraordinary projects that we absolutely need are going to take longer and are going to cost more than we originally thought.

"We are going to take the summer to re-evaluate the extension of the programme - we need to do that properly with the Department for Transport and, of course, looking at the impact on trains as well."

The Lib Dems also criticised the announcement, and Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said: “The Tories talk a lot of warm words about the North, but today’s announcement demonstrates a cold, hard fact. This shows that they do not care about investing to improve our connectivity.

“Electrification is a key plank in ensuring we create jobs for local people, attract business and boost our regional economy. By putting the plans on hold, the Tories are putting are letting down millions of people in northern cities like Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.

“Liberal Democrats in government committed millions of pounds to deliver huge expansions in northern travel links. It is a shame that when left to their own devices, the Tories are now rowing back on this much needed investment.”

Mr McLoughlin announced today changes at the very top of Network Rail, with current chairman Richard Parry-Jones stepping down to be replaced by London’s Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy.

None of Network Rail’s Executive Directors will receive a bonus for the past year.