Brakes slammed on key rail upgrade for Market Harborough

Market Harborough Train Station. NNL-150302-191841001
Market Harborough Train Station. NNL-150302-191841001

Long-promised work on the electrification of the Midland Mainline has been halted by the Government.

Councillors and rail passengers in Market Harborough have described the decision as “deeply concerning”.

The reaction comes after Network Rail admitted last Thursday that it had been “overly optimistic” about completing the five-year, £38billion plan.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told Parliament the plan was being “reset” because it was “costing more and taking longer”.

He told MPs electrification work was being “paused” on the Midland Mainline, which is the line through Market Harborough, and onto the Transpennine route between Leeds and Manchester.

He also announced a shake-up of Network Rail’s management with chairman Richard Parry-Jones being replaced by London’s Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy.

Steve Jones, the chairman of the Harborough Rail Users’ group, said: “The ‘pausing’ of the electrification of the Midland Main Line is disappointing, especially after much preparatory work has already been done such as raising numerous bridges over the line to provide clearance for the overhead wires.

“However, the Transport Secretary has said that speed and capacity improvements on the line can still go ahead without electrification. This is what we must press for; in particular, the long-awaited scheme to straighten the line through Market Harborough and give us the full-length, full-height, fully accessible platforms that the station so desperately needs.

“That does not depend on electrification; indeed, it needs to be done before electrification makes it prohibitively expensive. The Government must now make sure this goes ahead and is not delayed yet again. We still need the electrification in due course but sorting Harborough station out is the immediate priority.”

District councillor Phil Knowles said the announcement was ‘deeply concerning’ and added: “The programme and promises laid out were seemingly moving forward. Now it seems, at best, that it will come in considerably over-budget and very much delayed.

“We have indications that improvements to Harborough train station will still go ahead but the question is when will the work start and finish and will it be the full range of upgrades and improvements promised?

“Harborough has so much to offer and does not deserve yet another disappointment and more uncertainty.”

A spokesman for Network Rail refused to answer direct question from the Mail about the specific issues in Market Harborough and directed the Mail to a 521-word prepared statement.

Part of it said: “On the big items like electrification and capital projects, it was always part of the regulatory process that the costs and programme would be revisited as projects became properly defined.

“Unfortunately when these reviews have occurred, the more detailed project costs have been higher than assumed at the earliest stages of definition. As a result, the total enhancement programme cost now exceeds the available five-year budget.”

In February, Network Rail said Harborough was due to get a station upgrade as part of a £46m plan to improve the Sheffield to London St Pancras line. Those improvements include straightening the curve of the track through Harborough and improving disabled facilities.

It is unclear at this stage whether the upgrade will be hampered by last week’s announcement.