Johnson pledges funds for new Manchester to Leeds rail route

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Birmingham

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged on Friday to fund a new rail route across the Pennines between Manchester and Leeds to boost growth in northern England.

Speaking in Manchester, he said one of his top domestic priorities will be to level out opportunities and unlock potential in England's regions.

"I want to be the PM who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did with Crossrail in London," he was due to say, "and today I am going to deliver on my commitment to that vision with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route."

In extracts of his speech provided by his office, he said the government and local people would have to consult on an exact proposal for the route.

"I have tasked officials to accelerate their work on these plans so that we are ready to do a deal in the autumn," he added.

The route would be the first step in the so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail and would be considered in detail after a government review into the cost of the High-Speed 2 project which will connect London, the Midlands and northern England using trains capable of travelling at 250 mph.

The first segment of the HS2 project between London and Birmingham is due to open at the end of 2026, with the second phase to Leeds and Manchester expected to be completed by 2032-33.

London's Crossrail, Europe's biggest infrastructure project, which has been beset by cost overruns and timetable delays, will connect Reading, to the west of the capital, with Shenfield, to the east.

(Reporting by Stephen Addison, Editing by Paul Sandle)