A Sheffield MP says that the delayed delivery of a major rail line to London will ‘harm the economy’ in the north.
Proposals to upgrade the Midland Mainline were put on hold by the Government after Network Rail admitted it had been ‘overly optimistic’ about completing the five-year rail improvement plan on time.
The news sparked campaigns across the country and condemnation from Sheffield politicians.
Now Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has asked Network Rail to ‘unpause’ the work after plans on how work could continue were submitted.
However it means that the line to Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham will not be upgraded until 2023, in eight years time and four years later than hoped.
Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP Harry Harpham, who led a debate in Parliament on the electrification work. said: “Thanks to the outrage of passengers and Labour’s Don’t Pull the Plug campaign, the Government have been forced to U-turn and get these upgrade works going again.
“I welcome their decision, but the reality is that these projects will now be delivered years late, harming the economy in the midlands and the north.
“Thanks to ministers’ incompetence jobs have been lost during the so-called ‘pause’, resources have been shifted to other projects, and it’ll now take longer and cost more to electrify these lines.
“We warned the Transport Secretary months ago that these projects were in jeopardy, but he waited until after the election to take action.
“If he had gotten a grip on the situation sooner, we wouldn’t be in this position now.”
Other Sheffield organisations have welcomed the end to the pause.
Peter Kennan, chairman of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce transport forum and partner at Hawsons Chartered Accountants, said: “We are delighted to welcome today’s news that the electrification of the Midland Mainline will resume and we will hopefully have electric trains from Sheffield to London by 2023.
“A modern, efficient and environmentally friendly rail service to London is a key objective for our city business region.
“While noting some of the comments made following the announcement, work has to progress in stages from the present limit of electrification in Bedford, and Sheffield is at the extremity of the line.
“It is actually a big relief that the whole line will be electrified in due course and we feel the delay, although regrettable, is understandable.”
Prof Sir Keith Burnett, vice chancellor of the University of Sheffield, added: “This is fantastic news for the north.
“Those living and working in the north will be pleased with the announcement.
“Cities in the north are working together for the common interest of the UK, and this new rail development will move this process along at high speed.
“Cities are already working together on research and development.
“Here at the University of Sheffield, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre are already delivering great results for UK businesses and promising futures for our advanced apprentices.
“There is no reason why we can’t work together on the infrastructure that will define the Northern Powerhouse.”
The Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and combined authority cautiously welcomed the Government’s decision to restart electrification work.
Coun Sir Stephen Houghton CBE, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, said: “While it is good news that Network Rail will restart electrification work on the Midland Mainline, I am extremely disappointed that it will now take a further four years to complete.
“I would urge the Government to revisit this decision and look for ways in which this important programme can be sped-up. The prompt delivery of this electrification work is a vital part of our plans to build an economic powerhouse in the north.”
James Newman, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “While business leaders will welcome news that the programme has been restarted, there will be widespread disappointment in the decision to delay the project by four years.
“The delay to this work will impact on many rail businesses in the Sheffield City Region, as well the various supply chains which will have been readying themselves for work to be completed so much sooner.”
Jake Kelly, managing Director of East Midlands Trains, said: “We welcome the news that the Midland Mainline electrification scheme is to be restarted and that work will now recommence.
“Over the next few years, around £13 million will be invested to improve services for our customers as part of our new franchise which will deliver better journeys, discounted fares, an improved compensation system, cleaner trains and stations and new technology.
“The news about the electrification scheme will provide a further boost to this and will come as great news to our customers, communities and all the stakeholders who understand the importance of this major improvement scheme.
“There remains an urgent need for more capacity, new rolling stock and faster journey times on our network and these are big priorities for our customers and the communities we serve.
“We look forward to working with the Department for Transport and Network Rail to secure these important benefits for our customers.”