THE North East will benefit from ‘rapid’ upgrades to the East Coast Main Line as part of a £96 billion package of rail construction and upgrades in the North and Midlands.

Upgrades to the line in the North East, Yorkshire and East Midlands will make journey times 25 minutes faster, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.

London to Darlington will be reduced by up to 15 minutes, while services to Newcastle will be cut by 21 minutes after the improvement work has been completed.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said trips from Newcastle to Birmingham will be slashed by almost 30 minutes, while passengers in Durham and Darlington will benefit from “smoother, more reliable trains”.

Read more: North East MPs react to scrapped rail plans in the North

Yet the new Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) journey times are slower than previous proposals. Journeys from London to Darlington are set to take 125 minutes, not the 113 previously proposed.

Journeys from Manchester to Darlington will be cut by 34 minutes but are set to be four minutes longer than first proposed at 81 minutes instead of 77. And although Leeds to Darlington is set to be cut by five minutes, this is two minutes slower than first proposed.

The Northern Echo: Rail journey times will be cut, but previous plans proposed even quicker timesRail journey times will be cut, but previous plans proposed even quicker times

Responding to the news, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said: “This should be welcomed, as investors who will create the good-quality jobs for local people will be able to reach our region quicker – but we need to keep an eye on Government to make sure this is delivered and delivered quickly.”

A new ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ network will run from Newcastle, the Tees Valley and York to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, and will see passengers travelling from Newcastle to Manchester have their journeys reduced by 22 minutes.

Read more: What Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said after scrapping HS2 plan

But the Government has been widely criticised for its scaled-back approach, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson promising in 2019 to build a new line between Manchester and Leeds. Instead, a mixture of a new build high-speed line and upgrades to the existing line will take place.

Under previous plans for the HS2 network the Eastern Leg was planned to run from the West Midlands to a new station at Leeds, with a spur to the East Coast Main Line to serve York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.

But DfT analysis shows it is unlikely HS2 would be able to serve the North East as previously promised without compromising existing services.

Responding to the news, Durham City MP Mary Kelly Foy said: "People in the North East have every right to feel disappointed by this announcement.

"After decades of neglect and growing inequality, the Government could have signalled that Levelling Up was on track by expanding rail connectivity, instead its more of the same. 

"The North needs and deserves transformative rail investment, and that means delivering HS2 and northern powerhouse rail in full, connecting our northern cities and towns to create new capacity, faster services and unlock connectivity and prosperity.

"The decision to ignore the strong economic case for investment in local routes such as the Leamside Line is yet another levelling up let down."

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