Comment

31.07.18

Freight for the Borderlands' untapped potential

Source: RTM June/July 2018

John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle and the government’s Borderlands Deal Champion, discusses the untapped potential for growth in the Borderlands, arguing that investment in rail must go beyond simply assigning a monetary value to the numbers living in an area.

The railways have a proud history in the north of England. George Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1 carried the first passengers on a public railway line in 1825 from Stockton to Darlington. The transport of coal from collieries in the north formed the lifeblood of the Industrial Revolution, in which the north’s great cities like Manchester and Leeds became some of the wealthiest and most advanced centres of innovation in the world.

Freight and passenger transport is as important today for driving economic growth and improving quality of life, but there has been an imbalance for many years. Spending on rail in London has far outstripped spending in the north for a long time, but there has recently been a marked improvement in rail spending in the north.

A lot of this has been down to investment in Transport for the North, but there is a risk that another imbalance will develop again: within the north. The combined populations of Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Manchester alone are almost 2.5 million, which dwarfs anywhere in the Borderlands. Undoubtedly, serious investment in the urban north is long overdue.

However, the main reason why I’m excited about the potential of the Borderlands project is that it seeks to look past raw population data. The Borderlands is a strategically important location for the UK. Heavyweight investment in the region could have a profound effect not only on the Borderlands, but on the entire country and its relationship with the rest of the world – which is a particularly important consideration in light of our upcoming departure from the EU.

The Borderlands is the narrowest point in the United Kingdom. It is also one of the few places in the UK with a direct rail link between the West and the East Coast mainlines. These two mainlines are the twin backbones of the country’s rail network. They are relied upon heavily for both passenger and freight transport. However, at present, rail in the Borderlands has room for significant improvement.

For example, a route between Galashiels and Carlisle is still at the campaign stage; the Victorian Waverley route has been closed since 1969, and its reopening would provide a relief route from Edinburgh, providing the Borderlands with its second direct connection between the West Coast and the East Coast mainlines; and the Carlisle to Newcastle line currently takes longer than travelling by road. This is a seriously wasted opportunity that deserves much more attention.

The geography of the Borderlands makes it the best place in the UK to cross to the opposite coast. Therefore, siting yourself in the Borderlands means both the east and the west coasts of the UK are more accessible than perhaps anywhere else in the UK. For a business, this is particularly important. Nationwide, access from a single location is not practical across the vast majority of the country. Likewise, access to the majority of the nation’s largest ports from a single location could not effectively be achieved from many locations other than in the Borderlands.

As we approach the post-Brexit world, our national trade strategy should be placed particularly high on the agenda. Being an island nation, the UK must make the most of its many ports, especially as we make a pivot towards a more global, outward-facing trade policy. A particularly important aspect of maximising our ports for international trade is ensuring that each of them are as well connected to the national transport infrastructure as possible.

This means better-connected coasts. In other words, this means better-connected West and East Coast mainlines. Improvements to rail in the Borderlands would better integrate the ports in the north east and eastern Scotland into the UK’s economy, as this would make the western half of the UK much more accessible. With around 90% of global trade transmitted via sea, the UK’s maritime capability will play a crucial role in ensuring the country prospers in the post-Brexit world.

It is not only the location of the Borderlands, at the centre of the UK, that makes it perfect for a role as a national transport hub;  it also has the space for rapid expansion. The region has some of the lowest population densities in the country. It is a region that could absorb significant development and still maintain its character. The Borderlands could be made much bigger without compromising the natural beauty of the landscape that makes the region so unique.

As the Borderlands champion, my ultimate ambition is to see opportunities and living standards increase across the region.

To do that, we need economic growth. To ensure significant growth we need to draw on our assets and our unique selling points. One of the key unique features of the Borderlands is where it is – right in the centre of the UK, with easy access to both major rail transport corridors. This is an asset of national significance. As the UK moves towards Brexit, we must be particularly mindful of how best to reach markets in all corners of the world. Providing an accessible, fast corridor from the west coast to the east coast is one way this can be delivered. This is what better rail infrastructure in the Borderlands can achieve.

 

Enjoying RTM? Subscribe here to receive our weekly news updates or click here to receive a copy of the magazine!

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

related

rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

Towards railway-specific, bearer-independent communication

17/09/2018Towards railway-specific, bearer-independent communication

Freelance transport journalist Lesley Brown&n... more >
The benefits of aluminium honeycomb to the rail industry

03/09/2018The benefits of aluminium honeycomb to the rail industry

Gillian Haverson, senior marketing executive ... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Year with brand-new infrastructrure to... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Elizabeth Line: short-term pain for long-term gain?

13/11/2018Elizabeth Line: short-term pain for long-term gain?

Tim Bellenger, director of policy and investigation at London TravelWatch, discusses the deferred opening of the central section of the Elizabeth Line. The announcement on 31 August that the central core section of the Elizabeth Line would not be opening on 9 December was a cause for major dismay and disappointment amongst politicians and... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >

interviews

Finding positives in negative short-circuiting devices

09/11/2018Finding positives in negative short-circuiting devices

Sponsored interview  Anything that brings about safety and time-saving benefits is a valued improvement for the rail industry, which is w... more >
Taking to the skies

30/10/2018Taking to the skies

Network Rail’s commitment to driving innovation is best encapsulated by its latest scheme involving high-definition imagery drones, or UAVs... more >
Going global: an interview with Network Rail’s Leevan Finney

29/08/2018Going global: an interview with Network Rail’s Leevan Finney

RTM’s Jack Donnelly sat down with one of the leading minds behind Network Rail’s most advanced and innovative rail maintenance techno... more >
Male, muddy and manual?

03/07/2018Male, muddy and manual?

Sponsored interview Sean Hebden, rail director at Kier Group, tells RTM’s Luana Salles what the company is doing to change the perceptio... more >