Rail passengers on the busy trans-Pennine route through Huddersfield can expect faster journeys and more frequent services once a planned £3bn programme of upgrades is complete.

The laying of more track and the introduction of high-tech digital signalling are among improvements planned by Network Rail, according to its route managing director Rob McIntosh.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced last week that a £3bn programme of upgrades to the line between York and Manchester route would start in spring next year and that Network Rail – the body responsible for track and signalling – had already begun work on the options available to improve journey times, capacity and reliability.

Speaking to the Examiner, Mr McIntosh said: “We have been working for over two years with the Department for Transport and TransPennine Express on what we can do on the trans-Peninnine route. Now the minister has announced the level of investment available we can start work on the maximum improvements we can make.

Rob McIntosh, route managing director for Network Rail

“And Huddersfield – at the heart of the route – is guaranteed some signalling improvements.”

Mr McIntosh said proposals included laying two more tracks between Huddersfield and Ravensthorpe on either side of the existing tracks to provide faster journey times between Manchester and Leeds by enabling express trains to “overtake” slower stopping trains.

Mr McIntosh said that would means acquiring more land and further discussion with organisations including Kirklees Council.

Network Rail also planned to introduce digital signalling – doing away with trackside signals which instruct the driver to slow down or stop and installing on-board systems to instruct the driver how to proceed. The system will include a computer override to prevent the driver exceeding the stated speed.

Mr McIntosh said: “That allows us to put more trains on the network. It allows us to ‘squeeze’ the trains together safely. We are keen to get that aspect of the upgrade up and running as soon as we can.”

Mr McIntosh said Network Rail was also spending millions of pounds on a new operations centre in York which will handle signalling at stations such as Huddersfield.

First TransPennine Express train

He said passengers would start to see “people with orange jackets and shovels” working on the trackside from spring next year.

Mr McIntosh called the upgrade a “once in a 100 years operation” which would inevitably bring some disruption.

He said some of the pressure would be taken off the Leeds-Huddersfield-Manchester section by the recently-upgraded Calder Valley line.

“We will try to work with the train operators on the optimum balance and the level of disruption caused,” he said.

Construction firms Bam Nuttall, Amey and Arup are working with Network Rail on the upgrade of the trans-Pennine route west of Leeds, including Huddersfield.

Announcing the £3bn investment last week, Mr Grayling said he was committed to improving journeys on the route – with state-of-the-art trains, longer carriages and more frequent services.

He said the £3bn earmarked to upgrade the key route between Manchester, Leeds and York represented a third of his department’s total budget for rail improvements between 2019 and 2024.