The government claims that its £200m electrification programme, combined with other improvements to track and signalling on the lines, will improve journeys between several of the key towns and cities in north-west England, including Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Blackpool.
According to a government statement, the programme will increase the proportion of all-electric train journeys in the UK from 60 per cent to 67 per cent and could allow two-thirds of all national passengers to travel on electrified routes by 2017.
Transport secretary Andrew Adonis said: ‘Electrification creates the opportunity to carry more passengers thanks to longer trains on these busy routes and to allow some 30-year-old “Pacer” diesel trains to be retired. It also allows existing diesels to be re-deployed to provide longer trains on busy routes elsewhere.
‘The government continues to assess the case for other electrification projects, notably the Midland Main Line from London to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield.’
Alongside electrification targets, and to coincide with today’s launch of the £5.8bn high-speed line that operates from St Pancras International to Kent, the government said it will outline its plans for the future of high-speed rail in Britain next spring.
Andrew Adonis added that the size of the UK’s high-speed network still lagged behind the rest of Europe. ‘This month I expect to receive a report which has the potential change all that,’ he said. ‘This will require careful study and scrutiny - which will begin with immediate effect - before we can announce how we plan to take high-speed rail forward in the spring.’
The report will be delivered by High Speed Two, the company set up to advise on the development of high-speed rail services between London and Scotland.
It is expected to provide a detailed analysis on how high-speed rail can be rolled out across the UK. This will include a route plan for the first stage of a north-south high-speed line, from London to the West Midlands, as well as options for extending high-speed services and high-speed lines to destinations further north.
If the proposals set out in the report are agreed to, the government will publish a white paper by the end of March 2010 that will outline route proposals, timescales and associated financial, economic and environmental assessments. This is expected to be followed by a public consultation in the autumn of 2010.