Up north: a long-term strategy

Source: RTM June/July 2018

Until April, David Hoggarth was director of Rail North. Now, after the amalgamation of Rail North with subnational body Transport for the North (TfN), he is the latter’s strategic rail director. Here, he talks about the importance of a long-term strategy.

When Rail North was formed six years ago, we were very clear on our priorities: securing long-term investment in the north’s railways, but also ensuring that overdue short-term improvements were prioritised.

We were coming from a situation  where the previous rail franchises (Northern and TransPennine) had been left with no scope for growth. With an increase in rail passengers in the north of over 300% in the last  20 years, this meant that services which were already crowded in 2004 were jam-packed by 2016.

In 2016, something changed. With the formation of Rail North, local elected leaders from across the region came together to argue for much greater investment and an increase in services during the new franchise periods (running from 2016 to 2025).

The investments we secured will see brandnew trains arriving on the TransPennine and Northern routes from this year, enabling 40,000 more passengers to travel each day and 2,000 more train services to be operated every week, including improved Sunday services. Through the Rail North Partnership, we co-manage these franchises with the DfT.

This increase in services cannot take place without investment in our rail infrastructure, and over the last five years we’ve also seen a significant increase in this.

By 2022,  Network  Rail’s  Great  North  Rail Project will have delivered a multibillion-pound package of improvements for customers across the north of England. Projects completed over the last few years which have seen major benefits for passengers include the electrification of the Liverpool-Manchester route (reducing journey times by 13 minutes for the fastest services), the Todmorden

Curve (providing direct rail services from Accrington and Burnley into Manchester), and the Ordsall Chord (which allows trains to run across Manchester from Piccadilly to Victoria station for the first time).

Restoring stability

Of course, as we’ve seen, these improvements haven’t been without problems. Severe delays on Network Rail’s electrification of the Manchester to Preston line has had a knock-on impact.

During this time, TfN has been focused on monitoring the situation and pushing for service improvements to be implemented to reduce disruption for passengers.

The subsequent severe disruption to services, with many trains cancelled or delayed, has been unacceptable and we have been working non-stop with our partners at the DfT, as well as with colleagues at Network Rail and Northern, to help get Northern’s performance back on track.

In the short term, our main priority is ensuring stability is restored for passengers, in addition to the rapid delivery of improvements already committed to, both through the franchise agreements and through Network Rail’s programme of work. These include the TransPennine Route Upgrade, to improve journeys from Manchester to Leeds and onto York, and capacity enhancements on the Hope Valley Line, which we were very pleased to see the Transport and Works Act Order approved for earlier this year so that the scheme can now move forwards to the implementation stage.

Our Long-Term Rail Strategy (which was first published in 2015 and has been refreshed as one of the key evidence pieces contributing to TfN’s Strategic Transport Plan) will form the backbone of future prioritisation.

Plugging gaps

Of course, plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), which alongside HS2 will revolutionise connections between the major northern cities over the next 30 years, are vitally important.

But our Long-Term Rail  Strategy  allows us to examine gaps in service provision and locations that would benefit from improved services, and prioritise a pipeline of work for Network Rail in the short to medium term.

These improvements are likely to include upgrades to existing routes, such as the line from Northallerton to Middlesbrough/ Teesport (to allow journey time reductions and gauge clearance for larger rail freight containers), and the Cumbrian Coastline – to allow better passenger services and the freight capacity required due to the decommissioning of Sellafield and the planned construction of Moorside.

They may also include the reopening of closed lines or the reinstatement of passenger services to lines which currently only carry freight. For example, earlier this year the DfT announced a feasibility study into the reopening of the Skipton-Colne line, and we’ll be working closely with them on this.

We also know that our major cities will have capacity constraints as growth in rail use continues. We want to make sure that all of our cities and towns are ready for increased rail use and particularly are prepared to make the most of the huge investment in HS2 and NPR.

The benefit of TfN is that we can gather and present evidence on what the north needs from constituent local authorities. We have a strong, united voice.

As mentioned, we currently co-manage the TransPennine and Northern franchises and we are already starting to think about what the specification looks like for the next round of franchise agreements. Alongside this, we are also able to advise  on specifications for other franchises in the north, such as CrossCountry, East Midlands and West Coast Main Line.

As we develop the proposals for each of TfN’s seven Strategic Development Corridors, having Rail North’s functions firmly embedded within TfN will lead to simpler development of multimodal schemes, with the rail team able to work closely alongside colleagues looking at complementary options for road and even waterway improvements.

We are committed to improving transport in the north of England for the benefit of those who live in the north, visit it, or do business here.

While focusing on monitoring and pushing for much-needed improvements in current rail service levels, it is also important that we continue to look forward and plan for the medium and longer term to encourage the long-awaited investment in our rail network.

We want to put a stop to the pattern of investment in the north lagging behind the rest of the UK, and ensure we have a rail network fit for our future and that will enable our economic growth.

Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse rail director at TfN will be giving a keynote address at TransCityRail North on 4 October 2018, along with fellow speakers and TfN colleagues Alastair Richards, integrated smart travel programme director and Steve Sutcliffe, head of Northern Powerhouse rail development. Dont miss your chacne to attend: visit the website here. 


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