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Transport Secretary to announce £5million for Transpennine digital railway development

A Transpennine Express arriving at Manchester Piccadilly railway station Photo: Press Association

Trains between Manchester and York could be the first in Britain to be digitally controlled, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will announce.

Mr Grayling, who has been accused of starving the North of transport investment, will use a speech to business leaders in Manchester to insist he wants to give the region "the newest, best, smartest technology".

He has allocated £5million of funding to Network Rail to develop plans for installing digital signalling on the line between Manchester and York in a bid to increase capacity and reliability.

This will come from a £450million fund for digital railway development announced in the Autumn Statement last year.

Upgrades to the Transpennine route are already being planned as part of the Great North Rail Project, which will reduce journey times between Leeds and Manchester.

Digital signalling is used on sections of the London Underground, allowing trains to run closer together.

Mr Grayling is expected to say: "I have asked Network Rail to put together a plan setting out how they could embed digital technology in the Transpennine upgrade, and I have set aside an initial #5 million of development funding to scope this work.

"This means that the Transpennine route could be Britain's first digitally controlled inter-city main line railway.

"My goal is simple. I want to put the passenger first, and use the newest, best, smartest technology to disrupt their lives as little as possible."

The Transport Secretary sparked anger in July by supporting a new £30 billion Crossrail 2 scheme in London and the South East days after a series of rail electrification projects in Wales, the Midlands and the North were axed or downgraded.

But speaking in Manchester - which hosts the Conservative Party Conference from October 1 - Mr Grayling will claim he is committed to electrification where it benefits passengers.

He is expected to say: "Our programme of electrification is continuing, and soon we will have electrified not three times, but dozens of times more railway than Labour did.

"That means more electrification in and around Manchester, and looking at electrification as part of passenger improvements across the Pennines.

"But people have got to stop only thinking about how a train is powered, and focus instead on getting the best possible improvement for passengers.

"And what delivers better journey times is actually the way you upgrade the tracks and the signalling, and how you invest in trains."

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said in August that people in northern England were tired of "clapped-out trains" while billions of pounds were poured into rail projects in the South, adding that "the patience of people in the North of England has run out".