Rail Industry Focus

11.09.17

High-speed synergies for the north

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) is now being increasingly seen as the third phase of the UK’s high-speed rail programme. RTM’s Luana Salles reports on what this means for the region and Transport for the North (TfN).

Few can have missed the noise over rail investment in the north recently. It reached something of a crescendo at the end of this summer. Local politicians and civil and business leaders petitioned for commitment following what they saw as some back-peddling on past pledges by government, and the rallying call drew a swift response. But in the public mind, and those of others, questions still remain on what investments will be made in the north and how rail will evolve in the region over the coming decades. 

The truth is, we are now at a critical point. Big decisions have to be made, and they need to be made soon. With the ‘Y’-shaped route for HS2 phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester and Leeds now declared, and with plans for the fast rail network known as NPR advancing towards maturity, it is now vitally important that the synergies between these two high-speed rail programmes are identified – and acted on. 

The case for NPR, sometimes erroneously known as HS3, has been growing ever since Sir David Higgins’ report on ‘Rebalancing Britain’ in 2014. A high-capacity network linking key economic centres in the north with its major airport – offering fast and frequent state-of-the-art trains – could revolutionise travel in a region where productivity needs to be seriously stepped up. 

The opportunity is not lost on TfN. It has produced evidence that shows transformational transport interventions in the north, such as the NPR network, will add close to £100bn to the UK economy over business as usual by 2050. That’s on top of an estimated extra million jobs in the region – so the stakes are high. 

But what is NPR? And how will it align with HS2 phase 2b? NPR will be a high-capacity rail network, not high-speed in the sense of HS2, but sufficiently fast to drastically shrink travel times between the major cities and economic centres of the north and, in doing so, create an ‘agglomeration’ effect that will enable the north to perform as never before. 

Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle will all be key nodal points on the network. NPR is being developed as a multi-nodal network rather than as just a fast linear route between east and west. It will be the backbone of the north’s first Strategic Transport Plan. 

And consider this: when complete, NPR will put over a million people within an hour’s reach of at least four major cities in the north compared to just 10,000 today. This fact alone will change the way the northern labour market works. 

For TfN, and the 19 local authorities and 11 local enterprise partnerships that sit on its board, NPR is all about ‘outputs’ – conditional outputs that will guarantee train frequencies and journey times. These will be the drivers that shape the new network as it evolves over the next three decades. 

What of its relationship with HS2? 

NPR is now being increasingly seen as ‘the third phase of the UK’s high-speed rail programme as evidenced in recent news coverage. Its importance has been recognised by the UK government and the National Infrastructure Commission, which recently ranked NPR as one of the most important infrastructure schemes in the country. 

Aligning NPR with HS2 will ensure that the full potential of both programmes can be realised, and that the north’s connections with the south get the boost they need at a time when capacity on the east and west coast main lines will reach the ‘critical’ point. 

TfN has been working closely on examining the HS2/NPR touchpoints that need to be developed in advance of the HS2 phase 2b hybrid bill ‘design-freeze’ due to be locked in by the end of this year. With acceptance of the importance of a successful NPR to the growth of the UK economy, building provision for it into the identified touchpoints with HS2 phase 2b makes sense all round. 

The north’s rail revolution is coming, and the one thing we can be sure of is that, when it does come, it will be worth waiting for.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.transportforthenorth.com

Comments

Lutz   11/09/2017 at 21:27

At last; some welcome substance cutting through the some of the nonsense we have had to endure over the last few years.

Andy Belk   12/09/2017 at 20:33

The Tories kicking the can down the track again, nothing more nothing less.

John   20/02/2018 at 14:55

Phase 2 of HS2 needs scrapping. HPR needs to designed with new line from Manchester to Liverpool (as TfN wants) that runs west to east via a new `through` station at Manchester Victoria, then under the Pennines via an essential `base` tunnel. When this is cast in concrete then have HS2 branch into it. NPR then becomes a high-s[peed linear hub. The way they are doing it now, is that the tail is wagging the dog.

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