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£560m funding gap threatens Northern Hub rail project
A HUGE funding “gap” threatens a £560m project to deliver faster trains across the North, rail chiefs have revealed.
Now the fate of the vital Northern Hub scheme hangs in the balance, with a decision from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) due on October 31.
The revelation – from the outgoing boss of Network Rail – surprised and alarmed MPs who believed the project was moving ahead, with Government support Graham Stringer, a Labour MP on the Commons transport committee, said he had now written to the ORR, urging it not to pull the plug.
And he told The Northern Echo: “I am worried that the Northern Hub will not go ahead.
“There is an overall £1.4bn gap in terms of what Network Rail is being allowed to have - and we don’t know what will have to go if it doesn’t get that money.
“I have written to the Office of Rail Regulation to say it will be a huge mistake to stop a project that will bring £12bn of benefits and between 20,000 and 30,000 jobs.”
The Northern Hub is a hugely-ambitious project to increase train services, cut journey times and electrify lines between the Northern cities.
Passengers from the North-East will benefit from quicker journey times to Manchester, with all services to run to the city’s revamped Victoria station.
At present, those journeys – calling at Durham, Darlington and Northallerton – take about two-and-a-half hours.
A new express service between Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool is also promised.
George Osborne has handed the project a total of £215m – and full approval was granted over a year ago – apparently putting it on track.
But, at a meeting of the Commons transport committee, Network Rail’s chief executive told MPs that negotiations were going down to the wire.
Sir David Higgins said that, of the £1.4bn potential shortfall, £560m was for “major projects” – exactly matching the overall bill for the Northern Hub.
He said: “On major projects, there is a gap. I think the figure is £560m – which is the figure set aside for the Northern Hub.
“We hear in a few weeks time. We will take the settlement away, analyse it in great detail and then come back with a response.”
Sir David – soon to be chairman of the HS2 high-speed rail project – assured MPs he would be “really surprised if the Northern Hub is at risk”.
“It is a fantastic project, delivering 700 new rail services per day. I think everyone accepts it’s the right thing to do," he added.
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