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11.05.17

Powering the Midlands Engine

Source: RTM Apr/May 17

Maria Machancoses, programme director at Midlands Connect, explains how the rail network will play a pivotal role in delivering a successful 25-year plan for the Midlands and the UK.

Following 18 months of detailed, evidenced-based work and stakeholder engagement, Midlands Connect has released the ‘Midlands Connect Strategy: Powering the Midlands Engine’ document. However, this is not the end of the process. The recommendations in this report can kick-start a 25-year plan of investment in infrastructure to help establish the Midlands as the UK’s economic engine. 

The strategy is essentially the long-term transport plan to support the government’s vision of a Midlands Engine. 

While establishing the Midlands and the UK as leaders on a global stage is the ultimate goal of this vision, it remains crucial that commuters, workers, students and pupils also feel the benefit of these improved transport connections as well as the region’s businesses. 

There is the potential to add a further £5bn to the regional economy and contribute to the wider Midlands Engine target of creating 300,000 new jobs over the next two decades by investing in this plan for infrastructure. 

Integral to achieving this will be effectively utilising the existing rail networks. Powering the Midlands Engine outlines how the Midlands Rail Hub will help release up to 85,000 extra train seats across the network every day and allow up to 10 extra trains an hour through central Birmingham – currently a key bottleneck limiting east-west rail movements.  

Midlands Rail Hub 

The purpose of the Midlands Rail Hub is to improve connectivity across the Midlands, bringing together the east and west and north and south. If we look at the rest of the world’s successful economies, it is clear they are not leaning on one single superpowered capital, but a network of strong, well-connected, well-developed regions such as in the US, Germany and Japan. This is what we aim to help create.

We plan to get works underway to improve railway access to Worcester, Hereford and South Wales as well as the links between Leicester and Birmingham, Coventry to Leicester and Derby-Stoke-Crewe before the end of the 2020s. It is this approach of smaller projects across multiple locations that will ensure all people within the region benefit. Whether they are commuting to and from work via train or using roads to deliver goods to new destinations, journey times will be cut and businesses can get their products where they need to be, while people can get home faster to spend more quality time with their family. 

Our recommendations show that the train journey time between Derby and Stoke could be more than halved to 23 minutes and that a much faster service could be introduced between Coventry and Leicester, boosting our local economy and making a massive difference for all those workers, students and wider communities who rely on the transport network. 

Making the most of HS2 

HS2 – the biggest infrastructure project to be undertaken in a generation – is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help improve links across the country, as well as boost the region’s economy and provide long-term jobs for local people. The Midlands is the first region to benefit from HS2. Through Midlands Connect, we are making sure the region is not only well-connected to the four stations serving the Midlands (Curzon Street, Interchange, Crewe Hub, Toton) but that we also capitalise on the released capacity HS2 will add to our conventional rail network. 

It is on this grounding of research, sound analysis and planning that Midlands Connect has secured £17m of government funding to be used over the next three years to undertake the planning and design work on early priorities, such as the Midlands Rail Hub.

Planning for the future 

The investment will also be used to draw up the business cases needed to map our rolling 25-year programme of transport infrastructure investment. This long-term approach will give certainty to businesses, communities and investors while also improving quality of life and skills with access to new opportunities both within the Midlands and beyond. It will also mean that nothing is last minute, the value of each project to business and people is known and the Midlands can prosper along a sustainable trajectory. 

The proposals are as transformational as they are ambitious, but we now have the backing from government and confidence that if fully implemented, the recommendations outlined in Powering the Midlands Engine will help to unblock transport bottlenecks, increase productivity and prosperity, create job opportunities and improve the quality of life for those living, working and investing in the Midlands. 

The Midlands, together with government, now has an opportunity to take these projects forward using HS2 as a catalyst for growth and creating a transport network that can deliver a once-in-a-generation opportunity that not only benefits us, but our children and their children after that. From this position, we must continue to build momentum through attracting further inward investment, use the transport network to grow businesses within the region and continue to develop plans for the future. We are a step ahead of the game, and now we have to stay there.

For More Information

The ‘Midlands Connect Strategy: Powering the Midlands Engine’ can be accessed at:
W: www.midlandsconnect.uk/publications  

© harrypope

Comments

Chrism   12/05/2017 at 21:31

Can't say this document hugely impresses me - the Moor St curves should have been built a long time ago and there should be firm plans by now to electrify the busy tracks through Snow Hill. And how is the traveller from Walsall, Bromsgrove, Aston or Wolverhampton supposed to make a quick and easy change onto a HS2 train?

Michael Byng   17/05/2017 at 17:54

The article is disappointing and shows little imagination for the future transport prospects for the region. It places far too much emphasis on HS2 Phase 1, should it be built, and make little allowances for the probable delays to the project brought about by cost uncertainty and the real effects of poor preparation for its enabling works, which are likely to bring extensive and lasting disruption to the region’s economy before it is complete. I see little evidence of initiatives to develop the “classic railway” infrastructure within the region, with or without HS2, which is designed, primarily, to relieve London’s commuter capacity. Where are the links that will bind the Midlands together? What of “The Whitacre Link”, the direct chord at Nuneaton connecting Coventry with Leicester, and the suggested “Snow Hill” lines network in Central Birmingham – and when will they be delivered even if they are under consideration? Why can’t the four-tracking Rugby-Coventry-Birmingham be considered? All the land is in place, just look at the position of the boundary fences on the current railway corridor. Now that realistic estimates of project costs outside of the Network Rail GRIP process are emerging, coupled to Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) and the provision of contractor project finance, surely these options should be seriously considered. The report appears to accept the rigidity of the current franchise pattern, whereas other areas of the country challenge them to facilitate new services. Having seen a lot of the “Northern Powerhouse” proposal, I am sad the second city and its East Midlands’ neighbours cannot do better!

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