THE Government is today expected to announce a £330,000 boost to the East Coast Main Line to improve journey times and services.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening will lay bare details of a £9bn cash injection into the rail network in what is being billed as the biggest programme of investment in the railways since the Victorian era.
But rail campaigners have warned against huge train fare hikes to pay for the coalition’s rail investment schemes.
The money earmarked for the East Coast line will include upgrades to the link from London to Newcastle aimed at improving connections along the route and reducing journey times.
It is expected that East Coast – along with other rail networks across the country – will have an opportunity to bid for money from £1bn of funds set aside for improvements.
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who sits on the all-parliamentary rail in the North group, said: “It is about time the Government invested in the East Coast line and any additional funding has to be welcomed.
“The East Coast Main Line is nowhere near the standard that it should be on a route that’s the main link between the capital cities Edinburgh and London.
“It is important that investment is given to the main line as it vital to the economic development of the region.
“However, it has to be said, that the amount of money is insignificant to the investment being given to the high speed rail project between London and Birmingham, of which the North East will not see any economic benefit for decades.”
The Government’s rail investment plan – covering the period 2014 to 2019 – is expected to include electrification projects, such as the completion of the electrification of the Midland Main Line, and the funding to complete ongoing schemes such as Thameslink and the cross-London Crossrail. Electrification between Manchester and Leeds may also be extended.
Funds will also include the Northern Hub scheme, a series of projects around Manchester to improve capacity so as to get more and faster trains across the North of England.
The Campaign for Better Transport said: “Whilst we welcome more investment in rail, massive fares increases shouldn’t be used to pay for it.
“We are also concerned that any rail investment is likely to come alongside increased funding for roads and road schemes.”
This January the annual increase in regulated fares, which include season tickets, was limited to RPI inflation plus 1%, based on the RPI figure for July 2011.
With inflation running high last year, passengers ended up paying an average of 6% more for their season tickets at the beginning of this year.
Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said the investment would only come through after the next general election in 2015.
“It is rail investment now, not post-dated cheques, that will deliver jobs and growth,” she said, while accusing the Government of cutting investment plans it inherited by more than £0.75bn and presiding over two years of “dither and delay”. “Setting out plans for way beyond the next election helps the industry to plan ahead, but does nothing to boost the economy now,” she argued.