PLANS for faster and more frequent trains running from the North-East were unveiled yesterday.
Transport Minister Rosie Winterton announced the latest plans for increased rail capacity to Manchester and the North-West, which will increase the number of trains to and from Newcastle.
After proposals by quango the Northern Way, Network Rail has agreed to begin a study on how to increase the number of trains operating in the North.
Increased capacity could also allow faster and more direct services to Manchester Airport and more freight traffic to connect with ports in the North.
Ms Winterton said: “Following on from the strategy set out in this summer’s rail White Paper, I want to pursue the idea of a ‘Manchester hub’ as a priority, to help unlock more of the region’s economic power.
“This Network Rail study will give us more details on how and when this could be done, what infrastructure would be required and at what cost.”
The white paper set out plans for increasing capacity on the railway, including a 30-year strategy and a committed £15bn subsidy for the railway over five years.
It identified Newcastle as one of a number of northern cities that would benefit from more carriages on urban services.
Although North-East transport campaigners welcomed the news, they were sceptical as proposals were still in the early stages.
Tony Walker, of pressure group Railfuture said: “Obviously this is good news for rail passengers and freight customers.
“The Manchester bottleneck has been a thorn in the flesh of Transpennine services for over 40 years. We are delighted the Minister has now recognised the seriousness of the situation. All she has done, however, is authorise Network Rail to begin a detailed study.
“Let us hope that ultimately this will lead to the improvements that are so urgently required”.
North-East Chamber of Commerce head of policy Ross Smith said: “Rail services between the North-East and North-West haven’t been as good as they could have been for several years and currently haven’t matched up to the speed and quality of the East Coast Main Line.
“If efforts are being made which will improve services with Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, that’s a positive thing.”
He said better services would not only boost the economy, but also alleviate congestion and be better for the environment.
“Obviously for the issue of both congestion and the environment it is good news to get people out of cars and on to trains.
“The problem has been that for many journeys across the North, it has actually been more convenient and quicker to travel by car. If measures like this can reverse this trend, it can only be positive.”
North-East spokesman for environmental campaign group Transport 2000 Don Kent said the Government needed to be prepared to fund transport within the North.
“At present, the route is slow and expensive. We clearly welcome the study, but really we are talking about a significant amount of money needed to upgrade a route that has just been upgraded.
“They must be prepared to put some serious money into this and not just keep talking about it.
“We are seeing major problems on the M62 and also down the A1 and to combat this then you either spend a phenomenal amount of money upgrading the roads again or spend this on the rail services, which will be better for the economy and better for the environment.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Unpaid tax ‘goes to rail shareholders’
RAIL companies are being accused of sitting on £1.3bn of unpaid tax and using a loophole to fund huge rises in dividends to shareholders.
The Rail Maritime and Transport union said almost half the £1.5bn in dividends paid out in the past five years by rail and rolling stock firms had been funded with unpaid tax.
The union said a study it had commissioned from tax expert Richard Murphy showed tax payments remained almost constant between 2002 and 2006 even though combined profits almost doubled to £810mn.
“Deferred tax is supposed to be an allowance against investment and amounts to a hidden subsidy for rail firms, but it is being exploited to increase dividends to shareholders,” Mr Murphy said. “Rail companies are hiding behind accounting rules when presenting their figures that let them suggest they’re paying more tax than they are, and that means the massive hidden subsidy the tax system gives them is not apparent. It should be.”
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Passengers are facing a future of massive fare increases and the Government is cutting direct subsidy to the rail industry by £1.5bn over the next six years, yet these private companies are sitting on a tax-break nest-egg worth £1.3bn.
“This is money that should be funding railway engineering, but it is being used instead for financial engineering and turning hidden subsidies into pure profits for shareholders.”