Rotheram and Burnham pledge major new rail board

Creation of a major new high-speed railway station in Liverpool has taken a significant step closer.

With little more than a week to go until voters go to the polls to choose the Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram has pledged alongside Andy Burnham to create a new public-private Liverpool-Manchester Railway Board that could further increase rail capacity between the two city regions.

The Labour candidates have received confirmation from government that options can now be considered to bolster the corridor between Liverpool and Manchester following the scrapping of HS2 last year.

Should the pair be returned in their respective elections next month, the two hope to see progress on the project to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the world’s first passenger railway in Rainhill in 2029.

After the government announced plans to do away with the major high speed rail project, Mr Rotheram and Mr Burnham were invited to advise on the best solution for improved connectivity between the two cities as part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme, which will continue in its stead. Mr Rotheram said he was opposed to upgrades to existing freight lines rather than promises of new twin track lines across the Liverpool City Region and beyond.

In a letter to Mr Rotheram and Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of Liverpool Council, Huw Merriman MP, confirmed unpalatable options would no longer be considered, opening up the possibility of improved infrastructure to increase capacity. Mr Merriman wrote: “I am committed to continuing to work with yourselves and other local leaders toward identifying the best solutions for this corridor.

“I can confirm that we are willing to look at alternatives to using the West Coast Main Line (WCML) into Liverpool and station options as part of the next phase of work once the high-level strategy for this corridor is confirmed.”

As a result, Mr Rotheram and Mr Burnham said they want to convene partners after the elections to begin work, should they be elected again for Labour on May 2.

Mr Rotheram said, “For too long, passengers across the North have been forced to put up with a second class rail service. Rather than accepting cheap and nasty solutions, I’ve fought our area’s corner and forced the government back to the drawing board.

“Our two regions were railway pioneers and we’ve already shown in the Liverpool City Region how publicly-run transport delivers a much better service for passengers and taxpayers alike. We’ll continue that proud tradition by working to establish a new publicly operated Liverpool-Manchester link, putting Labour values at the heart of our railways.”

Mr Burnham added, “The first railway line in the world was created here 200 years ago and we can now bring one forward 200 years later, actually that can have high ambitions as well, because the government has finally listened and they’ve opened the possibility of a line up between the two cities.”

Mr Rotheram, seeking a third term as Metro Mayor, said previous government plans would have meant a possible cessation of services at Lime Street to find a way to deliver more trains despite it already “being at capacity now”. He added how a new station – the location of which is yet to be determined – would allow for greater connectivity across the city’s major transit points.

Mr Burnham said, “Steve has fought hard to get that sub-standard, shoddy option off the table. If we’re both re-elected we’ll quickly convene the Liverpool-Manchester Railway Board to move at pace to deliver this.

“We would want something meaningful happening on the ground in time for the 200th anniversary in five years’ time. We’ve convened major stakeholders along the line, who all have an interest in a high ambition in the infrastructure.

“This is the biggest opportunity the North West of England will get in this century to put in place infrastructure that is in on a par with London and the South East.”

The Greater Manchester Mayor – who was first elected to his post in 2017 – said the board could help create a two-stop connection for Liverpool and Manchester to Manchester Airport as the North West’s major long-haul airport. His Labour colleague said working together would bring the two city regions closer together.

Mr Rotheram added, “ While both brands are great brands, when you bring them together, it really makes people sit up. What we’ve got at the moment are trains that can take us anywhere but we’ve not got the slots we can fit in between in terms of infrastructure.

“That would open up possbilities in terms of Merseyrail for All, we could go to all parts of our city region and have Merseyrail services going as far as Greater Manchester.”

Image: Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram at Rainhill station

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