Express trains running through Huddersfield could be the first in the country to be digitally controlled – allowing trains to run more frequently.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, who has been accused of starving the north of transport investment, is expected to tell business leaders in a speech in Manchester that he wants to give the trans-Pennine region “the newest, best, smartest technology.”
He has allocated £5m of funding to Network Rail to develop plans for digital signalling on the line between Manchester and York in a bid to increase capacity and reliability – raising the prospect of easing congestion on packed commuter trains between Manchester, Huddersfield and Leeds.
The money will come from a £450m fund for digital railway development announced in the Autumn Statement last year.
Upgrades to the Transpennine route are already being planned as part of the Great North Rail Project, which will reduce journey times between Leeds and Manchester.
Digital signalling is used on sections of the London Underground, allowing trains to run closer together.
Mr Grayling is expected to say: “I have asked Network Rail to put together a plan setting out how they could embed digital technology in the Transpennine upgrade and I have set aside an initial £5m of development funding to scope this work.
“This means that the Transpennine route could be Britain’s first digitally controlled inter-city main line railway.
“My goal is simple. I want to put the passenger first and use the newest, best, smartest technology to disrupt their lives as little as possible.”
Mr Grayling sparked anger in July by supporting a new £30bn Crossrail 2 scheme in London and the South East days after a series of rail electrification projects in Wales, the midlands and the north were apparently axed or downgraded.
But in his speech he will claim: “Our programme of electrification is continuing and soon we will have electrified not three times, but dozens of times more railway than Labour did. That means more electrification in and around Manchester and looking at electrification as part of passenger improvements across the Pennines.
“But people have got to stop only thinking about how a train is powered and focus instead on getting the best possible improvement for passengers.
“And what delivers better journey times is actually the way you upgrade the tracks and the signalling and how you invest in trains.”
Politicians including Kirklees Council cabinet member Peter McBride and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham have called for increased investment in transport in the North.