Plans for high speed trains to North East scrapped in favour of existing line improvements

The Government has revised its Northern Powerhouse Rail plans, scrapping high speed trains to the North East.

Under the Department for Transport's new £96 billion 'Integrated Rail Plan', the region will instead see other improvements made to existing services, including station upgrades and the installation of digital signalling.

Recently the Government said it would not fund a study to look at reopening the old Leamside Line between Gateshead and County Durham.

Now they say that the line would be best considered as part of a future city region deal – this announcement has frustrated some local leaders.

  • Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of North East Joint Transport Committee.

Journeys to the North East will be faster than they are currently - but slower than estimated under the old plans.

Mr Shapps insisted the revised plan is "slashing journey times across the north".

But critics say ministers have rowed back on their promise to "level up" the north by connecting its towns and cities.

According to the Department for Transport, Integrated Rail Plan (IPR) will see trips to Newcastle from London, for example, cut by over 20 minutes.

However, under the old plans, the same journey was due to take just 137 minutes - a reduction of 32 minutes.

Newcastle-bound journeys from Birmingham were due to be cut by almost 90 minutes under old plans.

They will now be shortened by 37 minutes on current times.

How some journey times to the North East and North Yorkshire will change:

London - York

  • Current journey time: 112 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 84 minutes

  • New expected time: 98 minutes

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London - Darlington

  • Current journey time: 142 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 113 minutes

  • New expected time: 125 minutes

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London - Newcastle

  • Current journey time: 169 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 137 minutes

  • New expected time: 148 minutes (145 minutes non-stop)

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Birmingham - York

  • Current journey time: 147 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 57 minutes

  • New expected time: 110 minutes

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Birmingham - Darlington

  • Current journey time: 175 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 85 minutes

  • New expected time: 136 minutes

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Birmingham - Newcastle

  • Current journey time: 206 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 117 minutes

  • New expected time: 167 minutes

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Manchester - York

  • Current journey time: 83 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 51 minutes

  • New expected time: 55 minutes

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Manchester - Darlington

  • Current journey time: 115 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 77 minutes

  • New expected time: 81 minutes

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Manchester - Newcastle

  • Current journey time: 139 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 103 minutes

  • New expected time: 117 minutes

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Leeds - York

  • Current journey time: 22 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 17 minutes

  • New expected time: 19 minutes

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Leeds - Darlington

  • Current journey time: 50 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 43 minutes

  • New expected time: 45 minutes

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Leeds - Newcastle

  • Current journey time: 81 minutes

  • Time in earlier plans went ahead: 74 minutes

  • New expected time: 76 minutes

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High speed trains from HS2 had been planned to arrive in the North East after joining up with the existing East Coast Main Line.

However, the eastern leg of HS2, which would have connected Leeds with London via Birmingham and the East Midlands, will no longer be built - meaning high speed trains are no longer headed to the North East.

But the following improvements will be made as part of the new package:

  • "Station upgrades" at Darlington, York, Newcastle and Northallerton by "around 2030.

  • Trans-Pennine link from York across to Manchester will be "fully electrified and upgraded".

    • Install full digital signalling.

    • Add longer sections of three and four-tracking to allow fast trains to overtake stopping services.

  • East Coast Main Line: Digital signalling, upgraded power supply and increase of maximum speed up to 140mph.

The announcement drew a furious response from Labour, with leader Sir Keir Starmer saying the "North of England has been betrayed" by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"This was the first test of 'levelling up' and the government has completely failed and let down everybody in the North, and you can't believe a word the prime minister says."

North East MPs have been giving their reaction, with Newcastle North Labour MP Cat McKinnell said the government is telling northerners "to put up with, make do and mend", saying the prime minister has "seemingly cancelled levelling up".

Speaking in the House of Commons, Gateshead's Labour MP Ian Mearns said it "looks as though HS2 was affordable for the south, but it wasn't affordable for the north".

However, Harrogate & Knaresborough Conservative @AJonesMP offered his support, saying: "no government has ever invested on this scale in British history... party opposite did nothing on this issue."

Transport Secretary Grant Schapps defended the new plan, as ITV News Tyne Tees political correspondent Tom Sheldrick reported on Twitter.

Boris Johnson said it was "total rubbish" to suggest he was breaking his promises on rail connections between Leeds and Manchester and insisted he would deliver on all high speed rail commitments "eventually".

He said: "The problem with that is those extra high-speed lines take decades and they don't deliver the commuter benefits that I'm talking about.

"We will eventually do them."

Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: “This is a hammer-blow for the North East and is the very opposite of levelling up. I’m not quite sure what our area has done to deserve such contempt. The Government appears to be arbitrarily ruling out major investment in the East Coast Main Line in our region, as well as confirming it won’t build HS2 to Yorkshire or the North East, and the Northern Powerhouse Rail plan seems to have been scaled back to a minor upgrade that is pretty much what was already promised – and not delivered – a decade ago. The Government has failed our region when it comes to ECML connectivity and I’m sure that everyone, including the business community and politicians from every party will feel as exasperated as I do on this.

“Long over-due investment is needed urgently in the capacity of the East Coast Main Line in the North East, including using the Leamside Line as an effective way to take freight trains off the fast passenger route to increase capacity on the existing line.  The recent disastrous plans to decimate services in a new timetable – thankfully now withdrawn – proved that the route isn’t fit for purpose for today’s needs, let alone for the future. Without this investment or commitment to invest the Government is holding back the North East.  

“People and businesses in the North East deserve better than to be frozen out of national investment plans like this. In the meantime we watch as taxpayers cover the costs of a new tube line and Crossrail in London, and HS2 as far as Birmingham, the East Midlands and the North West.

“We will continue to fight for better rail links for the North East, to improve our connections to the rest of the country and to help our economy to grow.”

The Department for Transport explains why HS2 trains will not continue to the North East under new plans:

"Under previous plans for the HS2 Y-network, the Eastern Leg was planned to run from the West Midlands to an East Midlands Hub station at Toton, one of three regeneration sites in the region.

"Trains would then continue north, serving Chesterfield and Sheffield via a spur to the Midland Main Line (MML), or continue on new high speed line to a new station at Leeds, with a spur to the East Coast Main Line (ECML) to serve York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.

"However, in the light of cost increases, concerns about intermediate markets, development of plans for other schemes and analysis indicating a longer delivery timeframe since the route was confirmed in summer 2017, the Government has considered whether similar or better benefits could be obtained in a more affordable way, earlier and allow for an iterative approach to delivery."