Transport secretary Chris Grayling ordered rail leaders to hold off on an announcement about delays to an electrification project between Manchester and Preston until after a House of Commons debate on the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) policies.
A series of emails from January 2018 – obtained by the Yorkshire Post under the Freedom of Information Act – reveals that Grayling ordered rail leaders to postpone a public announcement about further delays to the scheme until after the Commons discussion which largely focused on transparency within the DfT.
The upgrade work, part of the Great North Rail Project, was eventually completed in January this year, more than two years later than the original completion date of December 2016.
In one email from January 2018, a senior DfT official told rail industry leaders that Grayling did not want the delay to the electrification project in the North West to be made public until after the rail franchising debate led by Labour the following day.
An email from a senior DfT figure states: “The [Secretary of State] would prefer the announcement (of the delay to the electrification upgrade project) were sooner rather than later but not before the opposition day debate on rail tomorrow afternoon/evening.”
Instead, the email suggests that an announcement was “best choreographed” for Thursday 11 January 2018, the day after the debate in parliament.
An email from Network Rail route managing director in the North West Martin Frobisher, sent on the same day, reveals: “The Secretary of State has asked that we get the announcement out as soon as possible. He doesn’t want a big press release or media event.
“He wants us to directly brief selected journalists. He wants us to control the story, rather than wait for a leak to the media.”
The emails were sent on January 9, one day before the Commons debate on rail franchising.
The delay was announced the day following the debate with “poor ground conditions” setting the project completion date back from May until “Summer 2018”.
The project was pushed back again following a “crisis meeting” in May 2018 following the introduction of a new timetable which led to massive delays across the network. In the end, the electrification scheme was not completed until early this year.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State asked for the announcement to be made as soon as possible.
“This was done as soon as appropriate clearances were in place - as is reasonable for an announcement of this type.”
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