The Last Word

01.01.15

We must speed up existing rail projects, not just announce new ones

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Dec/Jan 2015

Mark Cowlard, head of rail at built asset consultants EC Harris, and the former MD of Atkins’ Rail Solutions business, analyses the impact on rail of the chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

In this year’s Autumn Statement, George Osborne put great emphasis on creating a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ as a counterweight to the dominance of London: this mode of thinking must be welcomed. Investment in infrastructure contributes to GDP growth in a way that few other investments are able to achieve, and the proposed rail upgrades set out in the National Infrastructure Plan will have an enabling effect on the regional economies. However, a lengthy decision-making process on important and inevitable infrastructure projects is preventing any local and national economic benefits these schemes will bring from being realised.

The National Infrastructure Plan and Autumn Statement did not reveal anything new; the re-franchising of Northern Rail and the TransPennine Express, and replacement of ancient Pacer trains, are already well underway. With a general election approaching next year, what is really needed now is cross-party support to realise these plans, accelerate the schemes, and to deliver any resulting economic and passenger benefits as early as possible.

Public consultation on big infrastructure decisions is important, but it often leads to unfortunate delays for schemes that have clear economic benefits locally. Other democracies are able to move from concept to operation far quicker than the UK. We have the skills to put these plans into place but we need to accelerate our decision making process. Where schemes are badly needed and inevitable from a planning point of view, we should be able to move much more quickly to development. All interest groups have reason to support this, as local and national economic benefits will be delivered more rapidly.

For now, focus must remain on the big schemes. HS2, including its second phase, is critical and the calls for a further trans-Pennine route (HS3) are also welcome. The connection of these schemes to local needs through connectivity and economic growth is vital to driving plans from conception to operation.

Cities therefore need to think carefully and quickly about how national projects fit into local transportation plans, how they will make the case for investment, and how they speed up the decision-making process.

How much of the Autumn Statement and National Infrastructure Plan is really just electioneering? Political developments, including the rise of UKIP and Ed Miliband’s uncertain stewardship of the Labour Party, mean that the result of next year’s general election is even harder to call. All parties, and particularly the Conservative-led government, need to court the northern electorate.

The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ rhetoric certainly plays to this – indeed, for all of George Osborne’s fanfare, no new announcements were actually made. So, with such a frustratingly slow decision-making process, the tangible benefits of northern infrastructure remain a long way off.

Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool – the cities that will most obviously benefit from the proposals – have worked hard, independently of one another, maximising the opportunities presented by the government’s localism agenda. But it is my view that whilst cities need to respond with their own local plans to national investment opportunities, collective regional direction would help speed up the crucial decision-making process and deliver economic benefits much more quickly. The delivery of HS2, HS3 and the modernisation of the trans-Pennine railways are critical and inevitable regional developments, and regional leadership is required to turn electioneering into genuine local benefit.

Will these schemes lead to a rebalancing of the economy? They won’t do so on their own, but improved infrastructure through national and local railway projects will unlock invaluable human resource benefits for the regional economy.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

A Rise   31/01/2015 at 11:50

After starting work with a company dealing with Network Rail I proposed a new item (non safety) to be used on a project. I was informed that it would be tested by the Network Rail Lab. This would take between 18 months to 2 years for a full spec test; even thou the item had already been tested by BSI and government and gained approval. Previously I had worked for a very large American electronics company which was focused on achievement down to dealing with approval of new equipment. It was agreed that the decision of a non safety items would be approved with 10 days. I spent many hours trying to find items that were approved by Network Rail to be used on projects. Most of them were out of date with technology. In the end I left the company as projects just dragged on without a conclusion. This is one of many that dishearten me. Something needs to be done to speed up approval of new technology.

Add your comment

 

related

rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

Transport secretary approves Northampton rail depot plans

14/10/2019Transport secretary approves Northampton rail depot plans

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has given the green light to plans submitted for the Northampton Gateway Strategic Rail Freight Interchange, a h... more >
‘Quick-thinking’ ScotRail employee nominated for lifesaver award

10/10/2019‘Quick-thinking’ ScotRail employee nominated for lifesaver award

Today (October 10), on World Mental Health Day, a ScotRail employee has been nominated for a top award after his rapid response to noticing and h... more >
Virgin Trains to increase number of body cameras worn by staff

09/10/2019Virgin Trains to increase number of body cameras worn by staff

Virgin Trains, the first UK train operator to equip all frontline teams with body worn cameras, are rolling out 250 more across the network. ... more >
Carlisle extension to Borders Railway making positive progress

09/10/2019Carlisle extension to Borders Railway making positive progress

Borders Railway trains could soon be travelling down as far as Carlisle, after campaigners for the line extension were told their goal is &l... more >

comment

The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >
Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

02/07/2019Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

Smart electrification is the way to boost clean energy resources, argues Leo Murray, director at 10:10 Climate Action. Contractors are clear... more >
Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

02/07/2019Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

The TCR Midlands conference is only days away and tickets are going fast for the sector event of the year at the Vox Conference Centre in Birming... 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 Ye... 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... more > more last word articles >

interviews

Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he wo... more >
Malcolm Holmes, executive director of West Midlands Rail Executive, announced as TCR Midlands speaker in Birmingham

24/06/2019Malcolm Holmes, executive director of West Midlands Rail Executive, announced as TCR Midlands speaker in Birmingham

Ahead of his appearance, Malcolm Holmes spoke with Rail Technology Magazine about what key leaders in the industry were doing to improve rail in ... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projec... more >

rail industry focus

View all News

'the sleepers' daily blog

Connecting Network Rail with the supply chain

17/09/2019Connecting Network Rail with the supply chain

Continuing our mission to connect buyers with suppliers, This year TransCityRail North is adding a new element to the event. We are introducing a... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >