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Boris Johnson to back new Leeds and Manchester rail route

Artist's impression of high speed train
Image caption Full details of the route will be published in the autumn

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will pledge to fund a new high-speed rail route between Leeds and Manchester.

In a speech on Saturday in Manchester, Mr Johnson will give his backing to the trans-Pennine transport link to “turbo charge the economy”.

Dubbed “Crossrail of the North”, this would see journey times halved between major northern cities.

The full details of the route are expected to be published in the autumn following the review into HS2.

It is thought the new route will be part of Mr Johnson’s wider commitment to deliver a high-speed railway link across the north of England, which would cost about £39bn.

The previous government supported the project in principle but had not committed to investing in it.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said the project had been “announced time and time again by the Conservatives”.

“With Boris Johnson’s staggering failure to build a bridge across the Thames and an estuary airport I’m not confident he’ll be able to deliver better train services between Leeds and Manchester,” he added.

“What we really need is Labour’s Crossrail for the North, from Liverpool to Hull and up to the North East to unleash the economic potential of the region.

“Just upgrading the rail between Leeds and Manchester – the same distance as the Central line on the London Underground – won’t achieve that.”

Analysis

By Spencer Stokes, BBC Look North transport correspondent

Image copyright Robert Wright

Theresa May’s government had said that it supported the idea of a new, fast rail route across the Pennines in principle – but it hadn’t found the money to make it a reality.

Boris Johnson’s speech goes one step further with a firm pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester line.

The new railway would have a significant impact on journey times. Leeds to Manchester could be cut from around 50 minutes to less than 30 minutes.

Local authorities in the north have campaigned hard for extra cash for the north’s railways following years of investment in big transport projects in London such as Crossrail and the rebuilding of several of the capital’s rail stations.

Attention will now turn to the precise route and if the HS2 experience is anything to go by that’s when the difficulties of building a railway become apparent.

Mr Johnson will use the speech to state he is committed to “rebalance power, growth and productivity across the UK”.

A survey by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) found companies believed the upgraded network would boost productivity and investment.

NPP director Henri Murison said: “This is a seminal moment for the north – the entire Northern Powerhouse concept is all about connecting the cities and towns of the north to boost productivity.”

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake said: “Northern Powerhouse Rail is key to our vision for a modern, reliable transport network that delivers faster journey times, additional capacity and greater reliability and I hope the Government will now work with us to accelerate delivery of this project.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

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