The prime minister says his Integrated Rail Plan constitutes “the biggest transport investment programme in a century” and that it will deliver “meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly”.
But a senior railway industry figure has described the scrapping of the eastern leg of High Speed 2 (HS2) as “utterly catastrophic for the East Midlands and Yorkshire“.
Nigel Harris, managing editor of Rail magazine, told The Independent: “It’s dishonest, it won’t do what is claimed and will congest Yorkshire’s main lines even further to create even greater paralysis.”
He called the decision: “An act of political spinelessness of such mind-numbing stupidity that it’s hard to find adjectives which adequately convey how moronic it really is.
“With no HS2 then there’s no release of capacity on the East Coast main line to use for other stuff: better inter-urban services and freight.
“So, before too long we’ll have created a fraction of the capacity which HS2 would have brought by upgrading the East Coast main line at huge cost and with massive disruption.”
The promised £40bn high-speed link from Manchester to Leeds, known variously as Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS3, will be replaced with smaller projects.
Mr Harris said: “Whatever they do manage to do to improve the trans-Pennine line, Leeds will effectively find itself at the end of an upgraded branch line from Manchester.
“We had a north-south divide before. This madness creates a new east-west divide now down the Pennines.”
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), said: “Levelling up cannot and will not happen without the full delivery of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail together.”
Last month the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced plans to incentivise more domestic flying with a cut in Air Passenger Duty.
The government insists that upgrading existing lines will enable the benefits of a £96bn investment to be delivered sooner.
The deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, told BBC Today that local people and businesses are in favour of smaller schemes.
Mr Raab: “This is the feedback that we’ve had from the businesses, from the investors, from the communities that the interconnectivity within the Midlands, within Yorkshire and the northwest is crucially important.
“This will be, as an investment, transformative. It focuses on that interconnectivity.
“That’s the stuff that the small businesses, the medium-sized businesses say is critically important if they’re going to expand.”
But Mr Harris concluded: “Today’s decisions will hobble network capacity for decades, just when we need to be encouraging people away from cars and planes, and onto public transport.”
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