TRANSPORT bosses have been urged not to let a golden “opportunity” slip for rail upgrades between Leeds and Manchester.

A £580m project to revamp the transpennine route was announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week, and is now another step closer following talks between regional leaders and the government.

The Transport for the North board – a group of northern mayors and leaders including Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake – met last week to discuss the future of the route.

Cllr Blake said the North should “not miss the opportunity”, adding the stop-start nature of talks around the upgrade had long been a source of disappointment to commuters in the North of England.

Members of the board were told the improvements, many of which could be in place as early as 2024, would mean quicker journey times between Leeds and Manchester and an increase in the number of hourly services.

Department for Transport representative Russ MacMillan told the meeting: “This is the main route between Leeds and Manchester, and hasn’t been upgraded since the 1970s.

“There is a confirmed programme – and a very significant performance improvement is expected – it will move the capacity of the line to eight trains an hour from six trains an hour.

“For journey times, there are modest improvements taking about six minutes off the Leeds to Manchester journey.

“On electrification, we have a partially electrified option on the table at the moment which electrifies some sections of the route and will allow some local services to be electric.

“£589m allows us to balance the need for ambition with the need for speed.

“The early construction work allows some of the benefits to be realised as early as 2024.”

He added the feasibility of a fully electrified line would also be looked into.

Cllr Blake, speaking on behalf of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said: “The upgrade to Transpennine is an issue that has gone on for a long time.

“We need to make sure we see it through. It has disappointed us for too long now.

“I would have expected to see a focus on passengers, given the work we have done over the past couple of years.

“There is going to be major disruption as a result of this work, so we need a major communications plan to make sure commuters are catered for.

“Lets not miss this opportunity – too many people are unable to travel by train because they are physically unable to do so.”

Mr Shapps has said £589m would be used to speed up trains and boost reliability of the route by electrifying much of the line and doubling the number of tracks from two to four on congested stretches.

It marked a departure from his predecessor Chris Grayling, who imposed a £2.9bn budget on the scheme, meaning only two-thirds of the route could be electrified – indeed Mr Shapps said the Government’s ambition was to eventually introduce full electrification.

The document which went before northern council leaders claimed the work was an “essential precursor” to Northern Powerhouse Rail – the proposed future high-speed rail scheme between Hull and Liverpool.

It added: “Pressing ahead with the delivery of TRU is a key priority for the North.

“Investment along the North Transpennine rail corridor will start to provide urgently needed capacity and reliability. It will also release capacity for future enhancements to local connectivity and freight services – something which is being captured in Transport for the North’s work on developing an Integrated Rail Plan for the North.”