One of the leading figures in the UK rail industry has accused the Department for Transport (DfT) of being “dishonest” in a tweet about station improvements at Leeds.
A £161m upgrade project that began in 2018 has just finished at what is the busiest station in northern England. Improvements include an extra platform, better signalling and an enhanced concourse.
The DfT tweet claimed: “This is part of our #IntegratedRailPlan.”
The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) promises £96bn of investment to improve train services in the Midlands and North of England.
But the plan was published only eight weeks ago. The claim that a £161m project was completed so soon after the announcement has been met with widespread scorn in railway circles– and, from Nigel Harris, managing editor of Rail magazine, strong condemnation.
“We’ve always had spin, especially from government,” he wrote. “This is not spin. This is dishonesty and so it’s our rail media’s urgent responsibility to call it out.”
The Leeds station upgrade is part of a plan that was announced by then-chancellor George Osborne in the 2011 Autumn Statement.
He promised: “More than £1.4bn will be invested in railway infrastructure and commuter links, including supporting Network Rail to deliver £290m to electrify the Transpennine railway route from Manchester to Leeds.”
The electrification has yet to happen, but the improvements at Leeds were part of the plan. The project was paused in 2015 by then-transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin. Three years later, it was restarted by his successor, Chris Grayling.
Mr Harris wrote: “It is dishonest for DfT to claim that the Leeds Upgrade is part of the IRP’s alleged £96bn plan, announced only a few weeks ago.”
He said that the press release accompanying the tweet “qualifies as heavy spin” and “is more sneakily worded”.
It reads: “The competition [sic] of £161m of upgrade works … follows the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan, a £96bn programme of investment targeted at transforming rail connections across the North and Midlands.”
Rail magazine’s managing editor wrote: “That is not what its tweet says and DfT should withdraw that untruthful tweet immediately.”
The DfT insists that the upgrades at Leeds were partly funded through “the funding envelope for smaller schemes from 2021/22 onwards included in the IRP.”
The Integrated Rail Plan revealed that the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds has been scrapped apart from a short stump northeast from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway.
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