An initial feasibility study carried out in partnership with Transport for the North was completed in December 2018. We are now working to assess the scheme to ensure that it can be affordable, will attract sufficient traffic and is part of the right long-term solution for the cross-Pennine rail routes. The results of that work, which we expect to receive later this year, will inform the decision about taking the scheme forward.
Does the Minister agree that restoring the line would have the advantage of providing an important new freight link across the Pennines, as well as a passenger link? Will he agree to publish the feasibility study, so that Network Rail’s £800 million cost estimate can be scrutinised and, probably, brought down considerably?
Of course if the scheme is to go forward it has to be at an affordable price. It is part of the Government’s broader strategy to improve connections between east Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and I commend those Members who have made such a powerful case for the improvement of those routes—particularly my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson and my hon. Friend Philip Davies, at the other end in West Yorkshire, who has talked about the importance of those routes.
I also believe it is of fundamental importance that we have a proper freight route across the Pennines, as well as passenger services for local communities in those areas, so that we can provide shorter journey times from ports on the east and west coasts. That, to my mind, is the central part of this work.