CONGESTION charging in Manchester could lead to a much-improved rail link between the city and mid Cheshire.

Sir Howard Bernstein, the chief executive of Manchester City Council, promised that a £3 billion Government grant package would not just benefit Manchester.

“There will be a significant improvement in our bus network, our tram network and very importantly from your readers’ point of view, the rail network,” he said.

“We all know the rail network is not particularly good. We’ve placed as much emphasis on improving public transport opportunities for people in Cheshire and Lancashire as in Greater Manchester.”

Sir Howard, who is the clerk to the Passenger Transport Authority in Manchester, wants commuters to leave their cars at home to ease congestion in the city centre and on roads such as the A556.

But he said road-charging – planned for 2013 – would only work if people had other travel options available.

“This is the single biggest public transport investment this country’s ever seen outside London,” he said.

“We want to have a world class transport system.”

£150 million has been set aside for rail refurbishments and another sum of money, which cannot be revealed because a deal has not yet been negotiated with Network Rail, will go towards extra carriages.

Sir Howard said the improvements were so important because Manchester needed to capitalise on the skills of people in places such as mid Cheshire in order to grow.

He said 50,000 jobs had been created in the city for people from Cheshire in the past five years and thought that number could soon rise to 100,000.

“As we try to create all these jobs it is increasingly the case that people in Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire will need access to them,” said Sir Howard.

“If the north west is to be able to punch it’s full weight Manchester has to drive employment growth.”

That meant bringing commuters in on the train.

“Transport from Cheshire to Manchester will be dramatically improved,” said Sir Howard.

“Look at the Chester to Manchester train service. It’s terrible, it’s appalling. Britain just hasn’t done public transport for years.”

If the Transport Innovation Fund scheme goes ahead – there will be a referendum on the issue in December – improvements would start next year.

A consultation will take place until October and Sir Howard said he wanted people in Cheshire to take part.

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