Transport secretary Chris Grayling has said he wants the trans-Pennine rail route to be Britain’s first digitally controlled intercity main line railway.
Grayling said digital technology is “transforming” the performance of the London Underground network, and wants to apply the same to rail.
Network Rail has been given £5M to put together a plan for embedding digital technology in the trans-Pennine upgrade. The money will come from a £450M allocation for digital rail in last year’s Autumn Statement.
“This means that the trans-Pennine route could be Britain’s first digitally controlled intercity main line railway,” the transport secretary said.
“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.”
Grayling also used the opportunity to defend the government’s scrapping of some electrification plans in the North.
He said extra tracks are being added to the Midland Main Line. Signalling is being improved and hybrid trains will run on it. There will be electrification on “those parts of the route where it will make the biggest difference,” he said.
“We will reduce the journey time from London to Sheffield by up to 20 minutes in the peak.”
He went on to say: “But then if you want to electrify the whole route, every inch of the way, it will cost the taxpayer nearly a billion pounds more than our current plan and it will save one extra minute on the journey time to Sheffield.
“Yes that’s right. A billion pounds to save one minute.”
Earlier this year he announced he was scrapping plans to electrify part of the line.
Grayling was speaking at the IPPR in Manchester.