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The long-promised high-speed link was intended to cut the time to 25 minutes, but last week the government announced that it had abandoned those plans, along with the HS2 eastern section to Leeds.

And then in 2019, Boris Johnson made inroads into Labour's northern strongholds, partly by committing to "level up" by redistributing power and wealth towards a region that has suffered a shortage of both.

"It's certainly a counter-productive move in terms of levelling up," said Andy Whiting, an operations manager, who, like Maggie, was taking the opportunity to work on his laptop as the train stopped at the old mill town of Stalybridge on its leisurely progress eastwards.

The decision to backtrack on rail modernisation comes on the back of a difficult period for the government, following the ill-fated move to save Owen Paterson and the ensuing allegations of sleaze.

"I was beginning to wonder what it would take for this government to lose the electorate's support," said Maggie.

But neither Whiting nor Phil Weaver, a motoring executive, thought that the stories of Tory former ministers and MPs earning large sums in second jobs would change voting intentions.

“ The gap between north and south is getting wider and wider, and this decision will only increase it, ” she said.

"The Northern Powerhouse ?"

he asked rhetorically.

Whether or not the gathering cracks in the futuristic vision of a northern powerhouse will reverse the damage inflicted on the "red wall" remains to be seen.

He may yet discover that in ditching a high-speed rail line to Leeds, it's also possible to not go far enough.

Swathes of central Manchester could be blighted by viaducts looming over the homes of thousands of people because the government has refused to fund an underground station in the city centre, Andy Burnham has warned.

This was refused, with the government saying it would cost £4-£5bn more than a surface station and take seven years longer to build.

Burnham said he would fight the decision.

Former chancellor George Osborne has predicted that Boris Johnson will U-turn on his plans to downgrade new rail systems he promised to the North of England.

The Transport Secretary confirmed this week that the eastern leg of HS2 will no longer go all the way to Leeds, instead stopping in the East Midlands near Nottingham.

As revealed by i this week, Boris Johnson's promises on Northern Powerhouse Rail have also been significantly scaled back, with the key Manchester to Leeds section delivered through upgrades along the existing transpennine route rather than a new line.

"Frankly, I don't think high speed rail in the east of England, up to Yorkshire, is dead yet," he told The Financial Times Payne ’ s Politics podcast.

"I think the politics of that over the next two years, we 'll see – and it wouldn ’ t be for the first time – our Prime Minister execute a U-turn and come back to promising an eastern leg of HS2, just over a longer period of time."

He said that the economic benefits brought by the rail line would also help to change Mr Johnson's mind, describing the advantages as "very self-evident" and widely supported by business leaders.

"The other side is promising further rail improvement, high-speed rail, and I suspect the Conservatives will end up recommitting to it."

But twenty out of the 28 journeys highlighted in the plan are also longer than what would be achieved if HS2 and NPR were delivered in full.

i analysis found that some journey times for the government's watered down plans for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will add up to 53 minutes more onto trips than what was first pledged.

The Prime Minister had hoped an end to Covid restrictions would allow him to pivot back to focusing on delivering his election pledges.

Some MPs believe the shake-up of rail plans still gives them enough to sell on the doorstep – arguing that transport links within the region are more important than the ones out of it anyway.

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