Chamber's Northern Hub campaign on track

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Jun/Jul 2012

Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s transport policy manager Emma Antrobus, who was the former co-ordinator of the North West Rail Campaign, explains why businesses in the region are so committed to backing the Northern Hub.

The Northern Hub is a major rail investment scheme that, if funded in full, will provide an essential upgrade to the rail network and help to stimulate economic growth for the North of England.

There is a major bottleneck on the railways, centred largely around Manchester, which affects commuter services into city centres and limits the links between cities across the North. It restricts services to and from Manchester Airport, and reduces the ability to move freight by rail, particularly into Trafford Park. The Northern Hub project will allow the towns and cities of the North to work better together and drive economic growth by increasing capacity on the rail network and reducing journey times. Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce made a strong commitment to lobbying for the Northern Hub almost a decade ago when the North West Rail Campaign was established between key organisations across the region, providing financial support and seconding a member of staff to be the co-ordinator of the campaign.

In 2003, it appeared that the region was in danger of having rail services cut and stations decommissioned. It was recognised that, to lobby the Government effectively for the investment required to solve the long-standing bottleneck, there needed to be a wide-reaching collaboration between the public and private sectors to make the case.

In 2009, a very strong business case was published. With the cost of the project estimated at £560m, a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) has been calculated at 4.2 to 1. This means that the Northern Hub will provide £4 of benefits for every £1 spent, creating between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs for the North, in addition to the boost to the construction industry. Whilst service patterns have not yet been set, completion of the Northern Hub will provide the capacity for operators to run up to 700 more train services per day across the North, with space for 44 million additional passengers per year.

The key elements are: two additional fast services per hour from Manchester to Liverpool, with a journey time reduction of ten minutes; two additional fast trains per hour from Manchester to Leeds with a journey time improvement of 10-15 minutes; a doubling of the services per hour from Manchester to Sheffield; a doubling of freight access into Trafford Park; and a new link between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Airport via Piccadilly.

The train franchises that will capitalise on these opportunities are due for refranchising in 2014, so it is not clear what level of rolling stock will be on offer to support the additional capacity. Alongside the electrification plans for the ‘Lancashire Triangle’ and the North Transpennine route from Manchester to Leeds and York, there are likely to be significant, visible changes to rail travel over the next decade in the North.

Significant, visible improvement to rail travel is what we, as a Chamber, have been lobbying for, working alongside Transport for Greater Manchester, North West Rail Campaign, Merseytravel, Manchester Airport, the North West Business Leadership Team and Network Rail. We have also spearheaded activity from Chambers across the North through a targeted postcard campaign where almost 1,000 members of the business community have pledged their support to see the Hub funded in full.

We have also lobbied ministers and MPs directly. We are now on the seventh Secretary of State for Transport since we began the fight for the Northern Hub, so this has been no mean feat. Recently, Justine Greening said that she understands the case for the Hub, and we have invited her numerous times to visit the Chamber and hear our members’ views.

The Chancellor has allocated £85m of funding for the Ordsall Chord, additional track that will connect Victoria and Piccadilly stations, in the Autumn Statement 2011, and £130m for line improvements in the Calder Valley and Hope Valley in the 2012 Budget.

Significantly, this project will not only benefit the business community, but the general public as a whole. There is wholesale support for the Hub as it promises so much in return for the amount of cost incurred in its construction.

With about two-fifths of the required funding committed by the Government, the Chamber and its partners continue to stress the need for the Hub to be funded entirely,otherwise we run the risk of not achieving the improvements to connectivity across the North to provide a much-needed boost to the economy.

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