The mayors of Manchester and Liverpool have hailed the government’s decision to renationalise the failing Northern rail franchise as a “victory for passengers” while calling for major investment to fix the north’s railways.
HS2 is a major element of this outlay and backers of the high-speed rail project have been boosted with reports that Chancellor Sajid Javid supports the highly controversial £106 billion project to modernise Britain’s railways.
Costs are spiralling and an inquiry by former HS2 Ltd chairman Doug Oakervee reportedly found “considerable risk” they will increase way past the £81-£88 billion range forecast in current chairman Allan Cook’s report from four months ago to well over £100 billion – almost double the £56 billion allocated for the project in 2015.
Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester warned “the North would not accept second best” when reacting to a leaked government review suggesting HS2’s full high-speed service would only link London and the midlands, with the north’s service diluted to a mix of high-speed and ordinary trains.
HS2’s ‘outrageous’ environmental destruction
The Telegraph reports Boris Johnson is facing a backbencher revolt on HS2, with Tory MPs “vowing to defy the Government whip” if the prime minister green lights the project following a meeting today (January 30) with Javid and transport secretary Grant Shapps.
Greg Smith, Conservative MP for Buckingham, described the environmental destruction caused by HS2 as “outrageous”, calling it the “wrong project at a cost the nation can’t afford”, and vowed to oppose the scheme, “come what may”.
Javid is expected to persuade the PM of the merits of HS2 following the Treasury’s conclusion the rising costs of the project will still deliver economic benefits, reports the Guardian.
Johnson postponed making a decision on the 250mph rail network that will link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds before December’s election but called it a project of “great national importance” during the campaign.
Today’s meeting about HS2 comes 24 hours after the government announced it was ending Arriva’s Northern rail franchise following years of train delays, cancellations, strikes and commuter misery, with the state to retake control on March 1.
£763 million subsidy for Germany’s state owned Arriva
Shapps said: “This is a new beginning but it is only a beginning. Northern’s network is huge and complex and some of the things that are wrong are not going to be quick or easy to put right. But I am determined that Northern passengers see real and tangible improvements across the network as soon as possible.”
Arriva – a subsidiary of Germany’s state-owned Deutsche Bahn – received £763 million from the UK government last year, the largest subsidy for any rail franchise. It has run the network since 2016 and proposed a short-term management contract to try and turn around the franchise’s flailing performance but northern transport authorities rejected this as a “reward for failure.”
The government’s decision makes Northern the second rail franchise to be renationalised under the Conservatives following the collapse of Virgin Trains East Cost in 2018.
‘Only the start of fixing the north’s railways’
Reacting to the state takeover, Burnham and Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram said: “Today’s news is a victory for passengers who have had to endure almost two years of misery and mayhem on Northern rail.”
The mayors added it was “only the start of fixing the north’s railways” while Mick Whelan, the general secretary of train drivers union Aslef warned: “There won’t be an immediate improvement because many of the systemic failures at Northern cannot be remedied overnight.”
Questions marks hang heavy over the futures of other rail franchises including TransPennine Express, South West Railway and West Midlands Trains.
A review of the whole rail franchise system, carried out by the former British Airways chief Keith Williams, is completed but has not yet been published by the Department of Transport.