A long-awaited upgrade for trains between Manchester and York via Leeds and Huddersfield will have its budget tripled, it has been announced.
The Transpennine Route Upgrade - first floated in 2011 - will be worth up to £11.5bn when it is completed in the next 15 years, the government say.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the investment would see the route fitted with the latest technology including full digital signalling and extra tracks.
The improvements will see a journey from Manchester to Leeds take just over 30 minutes, instead of up to an hour, according to Mr Shapps, and cut carbon emissions by up to 87,000 tons per year.
Shapps said it is the "single biggest investment any government has ever made in Britain’s railways".
But local leaders are still calling for more railway investment in the North, including an underground high-speed rail train station at Manchester Piccadilly.
They claim the current plans for trains to travel on concrete viaducts across East Manchester would lead to a £333m a year drop for the economy by 2050.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted the extra cash for upgrades could be spent on the underground HS2 station.
However, he argued upgrading existing lines would be a better use of money - despite the HS2 station plans costing less.
He said: "I accept that government means having to make decisions and choose between these things, but the choice was, which improved journey do you not want to have in return, and I didn't think there was a better option.
"I'd much rather get on with things like speeding up this journey between Manchester, Leeds and York."
Almost £1bn is to be spent on the electrification of the railway between Stalybridge and Manchester, reducing journey times and rail freight flows with electric trains expected to hit the tracks in around the middle of the decade.
The upgrade will also set the foundations for Northern Powerhouse Rail which had promised new lines from Liverpool to Leeds via Bradford.
But will now only see new tracks laid down between Manchester and Marsden where the high-speed route will join an upgraded existing line to Leeds via Huddersfield.
Mr Shapps said the upgrades can be delivered 10 to 15 years faster than building a new line and cost up to £11.5bn, as opposed to around £19bn.
He said: "Rather than building a brand new line and trying to blast our way across the Pennines, it would make much more sense to upgrade the line we've got which is what this Transpennine route upgrade is all about."
However, these upgrades are expected to cause disruption to services.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham welcomed the news that the railway upgrade budget is set to be increased.
However, he accused the Conservatives of breaking promises, including for a new line to Leeds, and asked why the North is being forced to make choices.
The Labour mayor also argued that the impact of Covid on the country makes it even more important to get rail infrastructure investment in the North right.
He said: "We were promised a completely new line to Leeds and it's obviously hugely disappointing that that commitment is not going to be met.
"Doing Piccadilly right has got to be the best way to level up Manchester and the North.
"If you look at what has been spent on stations in London in the last decade, how we can be arguing about a few billion pounds for Piccadilly, I honestly don't know."
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