NETWORK Rail has today unveiled a £1 billion-plus investment in rail infrastructure across the North West, including new tracks and electrification to meet the growing demand for train travel in the region.

Hailing it as the ‘biggest investment in infrastructure since the Victorian era’, the firm said improvements would reduce costs and ‘deliver more passengers on time than ever before’.

But it also warned that tough choices would need to be made if the industry was to respond to demand from passengers.

Network Rail’s strategic business plan, which has been submitted to the Office of Rail Regulation, sets out proposals it said would help drive Britain’s economy and make its railway as efficient as the best in Europe.

The plan covers the period from 2014 to 2019 and includes detailed plans for each of Britain’s ten strategic rail routes.

The London North Western (LNW) route makes up a quarter of the national rail network and includes the West Coast Main Line, the busiest mixed-use railway line in Europe, connecting London with Scotland via the West Midlands and North West England.

Working with partners, Network Rail will deliver a programme of electrification, signalling upgrades, new tracks and longer trains over the five-year period.

Dyan Crowther, Network Rail’s managing director for the LNW route, said: “Our route plan sets out the investment we are making for the future, with a particular focus on new technology and electrification to help create a bigger, better railway in the North West.

“In just seven years time we will have dramatically improved rail travel between the key towns and cities of the North West, enabling the provision of more trains and more seats to help drive economic growth.

“However, as our route gets busier our challenges get bigger and more complex.

“Despite these plans, in less than a decade the busiest parts of the West Coast Main Line will be full as passenger numbers will keep on growing.

“One thing is absolutely clear – when it comes to HS2 (Britain’s new high-speed rail network) the question is not ‘should it be built?’ but ‘how quickly can it be built?’”

Some of the key projects proposed to improve the railway, detailed by Network Rail today, include:

Northern Hub: The Northern Hub will stimulate economic growth by enabling faster, more frequent trains to better connect the region’s towns and cities.

Through a series of targeted upgrades scheduled for completion within CP5, the Hub will create space for up to 700 more trains a day, return £4 to the regional economy for every £1 spent and potentially create 20,000-30,000 new jobs.

North West electrification: A £400 million programme that will enable electric operation of rail services between Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Blackpool by December 2016.

Other benefits include improved services between the North West and Scotland, post electrification of Ardwick depot and the line from Manchester to the West Coast Main Line at Golborne (and later via Bolton and Chorley), TransPennine Express will operate an hourly four-carriage service with high peak services strengthened where possible.

North TransPennine electrification: A £300 million programme to be completed by December 2018. This will contribute to shorter journey times, provide additional capacity between Manchester and Leeds via Huddersfield and ultimately, enable reduced operating costs.

The three programmes combined would enable improved capacity, performance and rail services across the north of England, Network Rail added.