Bringing the north together

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 16

David Brown, chief executive of Transport for the North (TfN), and David Hoggarth, director of Rail North, explain how the two organisations are uniting to drive a transport revolution.

The pace of change in the north has been so fast that it now seems hard to believe that Rail North has only existed as a formal entity for two years and TfN for even less than that. However, the genesis of both those organisations happened several years prior to that, as the north started to unite to push for the transport investment it needs to grow the economy. 

Under the previous Northern Rail franchise, local passenger transport executives and combined authorities were co-signatories to the agreement. However, they had only a small amount of influence over what was happening, via DfT through to the train operating companies, and therefore found it hard to deliver any improvements to rail services. 

As the new franchise agreements for both Northern and TransPennine approached, leaders from across the north agreed that a commitment to real investment in the region’s railways was needed. It was clear that the only way this would be secured was if the north united to make the economic case for this rail investment, and was given real control over the delivery of improved services once the franchises were let. 

The early days 

In September 2014 Rail North Limited was officially established, owned by its 25 member authorities, covering the whole geography of the Northern and TransPennine franchises. Following its establishment, Rail North consulted on and then published a long-term rail strategy, covering all passenger franchises and freight for the next two decades. 

It is this strategy which informed the north’s ask in terms of specifications for the next franchises, helping to lead to the franchises which will see a £1.5bn investment in rolling stock and service improvements over the next seven years. In a groundbreaking partnership, these franchises are now being co-managed by Rail North and DfT. 

At the same time, the northern partners, initially led by the six city-regions of Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield but now encompassing every part of the north, started to unite to plan the infrastructure improvements that will be needed to transform the north’s economy. The north has a persistent gap in economic performance compared to the rest of England, with GVA per capita about 25% below the average for the rest of the country.  

TfN was established by these northern partners and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), with strong support from central government. The organisation now has a partnership board made up of political leaders from each of the northern local or combined authorities, alongside representatives from its eleven LEPs, the transport secretary and representatives from DfT, Highways England, HS2 and Network Rail. 

This partnership working is truly visionary – leaders from across the whole region have united around a vision of a modern north linked by transport infrastructure which allows fast, frequent and reliable journeys around the region. Particular emphasis is being put on east-west links across the north which have historically been neglected, both for roads and rail. 

Next year, TfN will gain statutory status as England’s first sub-national transport body (STB). We have been tasked with developing an ambitious, multi-modal strategy and investment plan for a transport system which will link the north’s economic centres. Rail will obviously be a big part of this plan – both the Northern Powerhouse Rail network of the future and improvements to the current network and to services which will be carried out over the next decade. 

The long-term vision 

With Rail North already overseeing improvements to services in the north (in partnership with DfT) under the new rail franchises, it makes sense for this function to be integrated into TfN and become part of our wider rail programme. The two organisations have already been working closely together and we are now planning to unite as one body as TfN becomes an STB. 

By the early 2020s, when the next franchises are being let, we hope to have full devolution, making the north solely responsible for specifying those new franchises. The north also aims to be take control of investment in rail infrastructure, with an ambition for TfN to become the commissioning body for Network Rail in the north by CP6. 

The integration of Rail North and TfN is a great opportunity, both for the people of the north and for the rail industry. For the almost 16 million people in the region, it means that their elected leaders, who live and work in the north, will be making the decisions on transport infrastructure that will improve their lives and help drive economic growth in the region. 

For the rail industry, it means that there is one clear partner driving investment and development across the north. Being able to specify improvements through franchise agreements and through Network Rail’s upgrade programme across the north will allow greater joined-up working and lay the foundations for the transformational Northern Powerhouse Rail network.




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