Boris Johnson backs high-speed Leeds to Manchester rail route

Boris Johnson walking alongside a tram trackImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Boris Johnson said the full details of the Leeds-Manchester route would be published in the autumn

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged a faster rail route between Leeds and Manchester, saying the benefits for the UK would be “colossal”.

In a speech in Manchester he gave his backing to the trans-Pennine transport link to “turbo-charge the economy”.

Standing in front of Stephenson’s Rocket he said mass transport systems enabled people to prosper.

Labour’s Andy McDonald said the plans had been “announced time and time again by the Conservatives”.

Mr Johnson said the full details of the Leeds-Manchester route would be published in the autumn following the review into HS2.

An audience of about 100 people gathered at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester to listen to Mr Johnson’s speech.

Mr Johnson set out the four “ingredients” for the success of the UK as liveability, connectivity, culture, and power and responsibility.

He said this meant areas having great public services, enough affordable homes, safe streets, fast broadband, and more responsibility and accountability for local areas.

HS2 and HS3

  • HS2 would connect London, the Midlands and up to Wigan, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds using trains capable of travelling at 250mph.
  • The north-to-south rail line is budgeted to cost £56bn.
  • The first segment – between London and Birmingham – is due to open in 2026, with the second – to Leeds and Manchester – expected to be completed by 2033.
  • HS3 – a high-speed east-west rail link between Liverpool and Hull – and north to Newcastle was first announced by the government in 2014 but no firm commitments have been made since.
  • In June 2019, the Department for Transport would not confirm when a decision on HS3 would be made, but estimated it could cost up to £39bn.

He added: “We are going to give greater powers to council leaders and communities.

“We are going to level up the powers offered to mayors so more people can benefit from the kind of local structures seen in London and here in Manchester.”

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Media captionThe prime minister spoke of the need to “inject some pace” into rail plans

Mr Johnson said young people growing up “a few miles away” from the centre of Manchester had felt “hopelessness, or the hope that one day they will get out and never come back”.

“The crucial point is it certainly isn’t really the fault of the places, and certainly isn’t the fault of the people growing up there,” he said.

“They haven’t failed. It’s we, us, the politicians, our politics has failed them.”

The Northern Powerhouse rail initiative was part of Mr Johnson’s wider commitment to deliver a high-speed railway link across the north of England, which would cost about £39bn.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Rail journeys between Leeds and Manchester are regarded as too slow and are often overcrowded

National Infrastructure Commission chairman Sir John Armitt said: “Travellers in the North have been crying out for a serious upgrade to their intercity rail network – as the Commission first recommended in 2016.

“Poor infrastructure inhibits growth. Investment to improve capacity, reliability and reduce travel times can play a valuable role in helping drive prosperity across the North.

“The PM’s decision today must be integrated with plans for HS2, and matched with devolved funding and powers for city leaders in the north – as set out in our National Infrastructure Assessment.”

Mr Johnson wore a badge bearing the phrase “Northern Powerhouse” during the speech.

Image caption Mr Johnson is only proposing to fund the route between Manchester and Leeds

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Mr McDonald said: “With Boris Johnson’s staggering failure to build a bridge across the Thames and an estuary airport I’m not confident he’ll be able to deliver better train services between Leeds and Manchester.

“What we really need is Labour’s Crossrail for the North, from Liverpool to Hull and up to the North East to unleash the economic potential of the region.

“Just upgrading the rail between Leeds and Manchester – the same distance as the Central line on the London Underground – won’t achieve that.”


By Spencer Stokes, BBC Look North transport correspondent

Image copyright Robert Wright

Theresa May’s government had said that it supported the idea of a new, fast rail route across the Pennines in principle – but it had not found the money to make it a reality.

The new rail line has been claimed to have a significant impact on journey times. Leeds to Manchester could be cut from about 50 minutes to less than 30 minutes.

Local authorities in the North have campaigned for extra funds for railways following years of investment in big transport projects in London such as Crossrail – and the rebuilding of several of the capital’s rail stations.

Attention will now turn to the precise route and if the HS2 experience is anything to go by that’s when the difficulties of building a railway become apparent.

Mr Johnson used the speech to state he is committed to “rebalance power, growth and productivity across the UK”.

He also said “the unglamorous local services which people use every day” – such as buses – needed improving.

This has been welcomed by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who said improving the current transport system was “more important than a railway line that might be built in 15 or 20 years”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The move could cut journey times on the trans-Pennine route between Manchester and Leeds from 50 minutes to less than 30

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you asked me to prioritise, I would say prioritise this next decade but I don’t think we should be asked to prioritise because London has never been asked to do that.

“We should have new rail infrastructure alongside support for our transport system now.”

A survey by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) found companies believed the upgraded network would boost productivity and investment.

Image caption The HS3 rail link would reduce journey times from Leeds to Manchester to 30 minutes

NPP director Henri Murison said: “This is a seminal moment for the North – the entire Northern Powerhouse concept is all about connecting the cities and towns of the north to boost productivity.”

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake said: “Northern Powerhouse Rail is key to our vision for a modern, reliable transport network that delivers faster journey times, additional capacity and greater reliability and I hope the government will now work with us to accelerate delivery of this project.”

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