An article in TransportXtra indicates that the electrification of the TransPennine route has been stopped pending clarification of the project’s scope from the DfT. This work, which was first announced in November 2011, had been scheduled to be completed by December 2018, although more recent indications had suggested the completion date may have slipped to 2020 or even 2021. Electrification together with other improvements would provide shorter journey times, more frequent services and more seating capacity. This project along with some others forms an element of the Northern Hub programme.
Trains arriving at Manchester stations have the next most number of standing passengers (5120) in the morning peak period after London, and in Leeds they have the next most (3036) after Birmingham. In each case TransPennine Express trains have the highest proportion of standing passengers followed by Northern Rail. DfT data indicate that 32% of passengers travelling into Manchester during the morning three hour peak on TransPennine Express trains have to stand. So the overcrowding problems are particularly experienced by commuters not long distance travellers.
What is now “muddying the water” is the HS3 scheme which is intended to be more ambitious about improving TransPennine rail travel. While it was announced in June 2014, very little detail has been added since then. There is an intention to announce more details concerning HS3 later this month, although that may not necessarily include any firm indication as to when the planned TransPennine electrification programme will be completed. Obviously it makes sense to reconsider how the TransPennine rail electrification fits with HS3.
However in the “short term” there may be a longer interval before any improvement in capacity is provided to this route. So those commuters will have to wait probably more than 7 years before they benefit from a better service or faster trains. David Cameron has previously said that improving connectivity and reducing journey times was “crucial” to the government’s long-term economic plan for the north of England. There could be a few red faces in Downing Street or at the DfT concerning the timing of the announcement that the TransPennine electrification is being put on hold so close to the forthcoming election.
When word gets out to a wider audience I anticipate disquiet in the North of England. HS3 should benefit Northern cities, unlike HS2, and yet in the short term it appears that it could delay some crucial and long-promised improvements.