Latest Rail News

13.09.18

TransPennine upgrade works will shut down route for almost five years

To achieve the improvements envisaged through the TransPennine upgrade, Network Rail will have to close some part of the route for up to a whopping 39 weeks per year for five years – in other words, closures of almost 50 months in total throughout the scheme.

In a letter to transport secretary Chris Grayling, Network Rail’s managing director of the London North Western & East Midlands route Rob McIntosh said that the large-scale disruption will extend journey times by up to 25 minutes and constrain capacity in the region.

This is because the level of ambition in the £3bn programme “cannot be delivered without significant disruption during the course of the works,” he argued.

“The TransPennine route is a Victorian construction that passes through the heart of the Pennines, with its inherently challenging topography. It includes many tunnels and bridges and access will be limited and difficult,” explained McIntosh.

“Delivery of investment on congested infrastructure with limited diversionary capability will be very disruptive for passengers and local communities. We have developed a construction methodology and blockade strategy that seeks to minimise that disruption while delivering optimum value as soon as is practical.”

As part of the project’s business case, Network Rail intends to implement a cyclical blockade strategy designed to keep disruption to a minimum around key seasonal economies such as tourism, university terms and Christmas markets.

Its access strategy is centred around keeping communities and economies connected by diverting services via other routes, such as the Calder Valley or Healey Mills. “In practice, to achieve the improvements we are seeking, we will need to close some part of this route for up to 39 weeks per year between 2020 and 2024,” said McIntosh.

The route boss said the infrastructure team considered ways in which this could be delivered in a shorter timescale, with fewer yet longer blockades. But they concluded that this will “increase costs and lead to levels of disruption that stakeholders would find unacceptable and are potentially damaging to the local economy.”

More work will bring extra risks

Worse yet, further improvements that could be made during CP6 should extra funds become available – perhaps through Network Rail’s Open for Business programme, which seeks to incentivise private financing and third-party contributions – might not be able to go ahead.

“We believe that to attempt to deliver more work would add additional risks to the programme, significantly challenge the supply chain, and become unbearable for passengers,” wrote McIntosh.

This could potentially wreak havoc on the region: Leeds and Manchester would lose their direct rail connection for a number of months; Huddersfield would lose connectivity to both Leeds and Manchester for several months; and communities such as Raventhorpe, Mirfield, Batley and Marsden would be “hugely affected” as many rail services would require bus replacements.

The freight industry would also take a hit, with valuable TransPennine traffic such as the biomass from the docks of Liverpool to the power stations of South Yorkshire being affected.

“Consulting with all stakeholders in the region, we shall work through the detail of these plans to understand better their implications,” the route MD told Grayling. “We hope you recognise that in developing our proposals we have worked hard to find the right balance between delivering a transformational series of interventions for the north and minimising disruption to the communities and economies along the TransPennine route.”

Attached to his letter was a document containing Network Rail’s intended programme scope, although this was not made available to the media. More details will be revealed when the business case is published.

Reacting to the letter, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald MP told Sky News that he was “greatly shocked that the offer that’s going to now be made is this massive disruption.” He added: “Closing lines for 39 weeks out of 52… After all the trouble that people in the north of England have suffered, this is the response.”

The TransPennine route upgrade will be one of the key programmes in the next control period, with Grayling recently confirming that it will include electrification as expected.

Works are expected to begin in spring 2019 and will be delivered by an alliance between Amey, BAM Nuttall and Arup.

(Top image c. NurPhoto, PA Images)

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