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17.07.17

Developing a stronger and more connected UK

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 17

Maria Machancoses, programme director at Midlands Connect, explains why effective rail links between the Midlands and Wales will be key to developing a stronger and more connected UK.

As major economic players of the UK economy, the Midlands and Wales will play a key role in building a Britain that thrives outside of the EU. Strengthening the economic and transport links between these areas will be critical in providing its people and industries with effective access to sub-regional, national and international markets. 

Increased passenger capacity, speed and frequency will make our rail network come alive and breathe energy into the businesses, commuters, students and even holiday-goers using our network every day. If we are to thrive and compete on a global economic scale we must make these changes now to reap the rewards today and tomorrow.  

When we started work upon ‘Midlands Connect Strategy: Powering the Midlands Engine’ we knew that the recommendations would need to benefit the whole of the UK, not just the Midlands. The result is that we made a series of recommendations for investment in infrastructure to span across a 25-year period that will turn the Midlands into a hub of transport activity, ready to support the UK economy. 

The necessity of these plans can be seen by simply looking at the economic powerhouses across the globe. We can see that their success is built on a network of strong cities, not leaning on a single, superpowered capital. And we know that building the transport infrastructure between our regional cities will be a vital part to the growth and success of the UK. 

An example of how other countries are already doing this is the RandstadRail connecting The Hague, Zoetemeer and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Tram, metro and bus lanes provide transport every few minutes for its customers between three crucial areas of the country. More than 110,000 people each day pass through one of its main stations, Rotterdam’s Centraal Station, a number expected to triple by 2025. It is this type of network that we in the UK need to invest in, particularly in our strong economic regions like the Midlands, to ensure sustainable economic growth. 

We know that if we are to be successful in our objectives to use transport infrastructure as a catalyst for growth across the Midlands and the UK we have to create a future in which raw materials, goods and services can reach consumers, and where businesses can reach national and international markets. To ensure this, access to airports and ports should be high on our agenda. 

Midlands Connect Strategy: Powering the Midlands Engine sets forth a blueprint to improve the quality of life for those living in the Midlands as well as attracting even more international businesses to the region. We believe that investing in this region’s transport can benefit the whole country and create a ripple effect that boosts the development of industry, skills and housing. 

This is where the plan for the Midlands Rail Hub comes in. Our strategy is not made up of miles and miles of track. It is a carefully researched project that utilises the capacity we already have, and that which is being freed up by HS2. 

Capacity across the rail network is stretched, and in some areas it is at full capacity. The planning work that has gone into creating the Midlands Rail Hub will be able to release an extra 85,000 seats every day onto the network which, at current growth rates, will meet network demand until the 2050s. 

Initially, we will be lengthening trains. This process will begin as soon as possible and passengers will be able to feel the benefits almost instantly. It is essential that we are able to deliver better comfort and safety for passengers as more people use the network and demand value for money. It is a relatively simple measure to take, but it will dramatically improve the travel experience of passengers whether they use the lines every day, every month or once a year. We calculate the completion of this measure will provide capacity until around 2024, when the work for the Midlands Rail Hub will be starting up. A timely stopgap to not just promise results years into the future, but today and tomorrow. 

Increasing the rate of trains to South Wales 

The purpose of the Midlands Rail Hub is to improve connectivity across the Midlands bringing together the east and west and north and south. While some of the routes are still being finalised, we have a goal to increase the rate and size of trains going to South Wales. Once the hub is underway, the plans could potentially introduce up to two trains per hour to South Wales. The benefits which have already been reaped from lengthening the trains will be capitalised upon and provide further convenience for everyone who uses the train, and that includes businesses using it for freight. 

This move makes sense and it is an efficient method to provide transport for the freight that comes out of the region. It makes sense that if we can get freight from South Wales to the manufacturing heartlands of the Midlands then both regions benefit. 

Action is needed if the UK is to avoid coming to a standing point and falling behind other countries as we compete on a global stage. Major cities, such as Cardiff and Bristol, should be better connected with the Midlands; the same applies for locations such as Port Talbot that deal with high-quality raw materials. As such, we are exploring the options for direct freight that can go through Bristol. 

Through Midlands Connect we are determined to bring Wales and the Midlands closer together, and we are doing so by working closely with major organisations such as the Welsh Assembly, the Marches LEP, the West Midlands Combined Authority, West Midlands Rail, East Midlands Councils and Network Rail and the wider rail industry. At the moment, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the speed and quality of travel for everyone across Wales and the Midlands. Commuters, holidaymakers, travellers, businesses, students and those visiting families will reap the rewards of a faster and more comfortable network and, as a consequence, so will our children and their children after that.

Image - © Matt Buck

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The ‘Midlands Connect Strategy: Powering the Midlands Engine’ can be accessed at:

W: www.midlandsconnect.uk/publications

Comments

Rail Realist   08/08/2017 at 21:10

Lots of words but not a single hint at what it means in reality

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