North needs rail action now – not trackpot idea in an Alice in Wonderland future

As modern fairytales go, it would be hard to beat Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Boris Johnson claims a new, high-speed link between Manchester and Leeds will revolutionise the economy of the North.

But his swaggering announcement of HS2 for London and the Midlands gave few clues about this pie-in-the-Pennines project.

No start date, no deadline for completion, no schedule for the trains to begin running. No budget for such an ambitious enterprise, and most glaringly, no details of the route it might take.

Publicity maps offer only a pretty coloured line pivoting neatly between our two great northern cities, as if the intervening 1,500ft-high hills don’t exist.

HS3 will cut journey times by half to only 25 minutes, boasts “the vision.”

Yes, and I will ascend Mount Everest on a pogo stick, clutching a gin and tonic and singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

The Victorians knew a thing or two about building railways. They chose river valleys to get through the Pennines, inevitably following a winding path.

Even so, they had to blast their way through three-mile long Standedge tunnel, at the cost of dozens of navvies’ lives.

Transport for the North is shy about embarrassing details like the route, the cost, and the timeline.

My request for information went unanswered.

In this theatre of the absurd, there is heated debate as to who gets what.

Manchester fancies a new underground Piccadilly. Bradford demands a calling point – in the city centre bowl, not the hills outside.

Huddersfield might need a new facility, despite having the most beautiful station in the country already. Halifax?

Don’t take me there. Nor will HS3. As a frequent traveller on the existing lines, I can attest that services are in dire need of improvement.

Failing Northern Rail is being taken back into public ownership, and TransPennine, almost as bad, faces the same fate.

But what travellers need is action now, not in an Alice in Wonderland future.

Some is coming, with new trains – beset by teething troubles – and upgrades for track and signalling.

That’s where the investment should go. Meanwhile, a new name for the Pennine project: Northern PublicHouse Rail, because it’s a taproom fantasy.

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