THE REGIONAL boss of Network Rail has detailed the £2.9bn of investment in the Transpennine route upgrade - but said the five-year plan would cause significant disruption for rail travellers.

In a letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Rob McIntosh says it will be a very ambitious programme of work that will transform the passenger experience between York, Bradford and Manchester.

But that "this level of ambition cannot be delivered without significant disruption over the course of works".

He says in his letter: "The Transpennine route is a Victorian construction that passes through the heart of the Pennines with its inherently challenging topography.

"Delivery of investment on congested infrastructure with limited diversionary capability will be very disruptive for passengers and local communities."

He says in practice to achieve the improvements Network Rail (NR) are seeking in aiming to cut journey times by 40 minutes between Leeds and Manchester the effects would involve:

  • closing some part of the route for up to 39 weeks per year between 2020 and 2024;

  • increasing journey times by between 15 to 25 minutes;

  • and cutting capacity on the line.

He says that NR's strategy will minimise the disruption around key seasonal economies such as tourism, university terms and Christmas markets "but delivering this level of investment to ensure value is maximised cannot be done without disruption".

The route managing director for the region said NR had considered doing the work in a shorter period with fewer but longer blockades but this would increase costs and lead to "unacceptable" disruption which would be potentially damaging to the local economy.

In his visit to Bradford last Friday Mr Grayling took pride in the Government's investment in the route but acknowledged that the work would cause major disruption.

He said: "The Transpennine rail upgrade is the biggest reconstruction of a railway line apart from the West Coast Mainline in recent times.

"We will creating a mainly four-track railway but it will mean closures and diversions.

"We can't do more than we are doing in the next five years."

The programme of work for the Transpennine route includes:

  • renewal of equipment that is contributing to poor performance;

  • introducing electrification between Leeds and Huddersfield and Stalybridge to Manchester Victoria;

  • reinstating four tracks between Huddersfield and Ravensthorpe, near Dewsbury;

  • introducing digital signalling between Cottingley (in south-west Leeds) and Stalybridge;

  • line speed improvements between Manchester and Stalybridge, Morley and Ulleskelf to York;

  • increasing capacity at Leeds and Calder Valley stations and enhancing Huddersfield and Stalybridge stations.

Mr McIntosh said that NR had considered whether further improvements could be made if more funds were made available but found that this would cause even more disruption.

He wrote: "We believe that to attempt to deliver more work would add additional risks to the programme, significantly challenge the supply chain and become unbearable for passengers.

"This could mean that Leeds and Manchester lose their direct rail connection for a number of months, Huddersfield would lose connectivity to both Leeds and Manchester for many months.

"Communities such as Mirfield, Batley and Dewsbury would be hugely affected as many rail services would need to become bus replacements.

"Consulting with all stakeholders in the region we shall work through the detail of these plans to understand better their implications."

In conclusion he says he hopes Mr Grayling will recognise that in developing their proposals, NR have worked hard to find the right balance between delivering a transformational series of interventions for the North and minimising disruption to the communities and economies along the Transpennine route.