Vital transport links closer to being a reality

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 17

David Brown, chief executive of Transport for the North (TfN), shares his thoughts on the government’s announcement of HS2 Phase 2b.

The publication of the Command Paper in November 2016 for Phase 2b of HS2 was a much welcome ‘starting pistol’ for the biggest transport project since the Victorian era. To deliver such an ambitious plan with maximum benefit, we must now work together to ensure that we make speedy progress and that the scheme complements our plans for the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) network. 

The north has seen a rapid growth in rail travel in the last 20 years. This has not been matched by investment in the network – we are already struggling for capacity on key routes. We know the north’s economy is hindered by these sub-standard transport links and we know this makes it harder for people and goods to move around our region. This poor connectivity results from a history of under-investment in transport infrastructure across the north of England. 

The government has stated that investing in strategic transport infrastructure is crucial to improving productivity, and increasing economic growth and investment in NPR – a fast and efficient rail system that will link up key economic centres in the north – is part of the solution that can help us achieve this outcome. It plays a key role in a range of long-term strategic investments in economic infrastructure, skills and knowledge in the north, and since November’s announcement, I’m heartened to see that the case for NPR is now well and truly seen within the context of the overall Northern Powerhouse Strategy. 

HS2 provides us with a real opportunity to take NPR forward in that we will be able to use some parts of that network to help us improve connections across the north, as well as to and from London and the Midlands. The extra capacity it creates will enable us to have faster and more frequent journeys between the main northern cities. 

The new and improved northern rail network cradling and interfacing with a fast HS2 rail link is exactly what is needed to provide the capacity and connectivity the north needs to grow and develop its full potential. Working in cohesion, the services will together deliver our vision of city to city links, both east-west and north-south, effectively mobilising one of the most powerful workforces in the UK. 

The north is home to internationally regarded assets, expertise, research and highly productive businesses that compete at both a national and international scale. The Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review was developed to analyse the north’s capabilities and set out a trajectory of the region’s economic potential. If the vision of the Northern Powerhouse Strategy is to be met fully, by 2050 the north will have 850,000 more jobs than if we continue without the strategy. 

To achieve these growth ambitions we need more people with the right types and level of skills to live and work in the region to help grow the economy. Transport is at the heart of facilitating access for these people and this theme has been highlighted in recent Northern Powerhouse conversations. 

NPR is about helping the people of the north reach their potential by equipping them with the transport and infrastructure they need to move around the region effortlessly and help build the economy. Intelligent connectivity driven by evidence-led economic thinking is what will drive this ambition forward. 

As noted by the secretary of state, the National Infrastructure Commission has recognised that rail is vitally important to realising the potential of the Northern Powerhouse – great news, but there is still much to do. The sooner we build HS2, the sooner the people of the north will see the additional benefits delivered through NPR. 

We will continue to work closely with HS2 Ltd to develop the rail network and will continue to support its delivery, while at the same time ensuring our requirements are reflected in their plans to guarantee that the north receives the maximum benefit from the new railway line. 

Our prioritised recommendations will be published by early 2017 and are likely to include both upgrades to existing infrastructure and possibly entirely new lines or major upgrades to existing routes that are akin to a new line, as well as utilising the new infrastructure which will be built as part of HS2. As well as reducing journey times and increasing frequency of service for passengers, our NPR proposals will also need to create the capacity to accommodate additional freight paths and support TfN Freight and Logistics Strategy. 

We will continue to work with the DfT and partners to develop the case for investment by the end of 2017. A multi-modal Strategic Transport Plan is currently being designed which will outline the many ways in which the UK economy could be transformed by connecting the north. 

The government’s announcement marks a major and positive step forward in bringing these vital transport links closer to being a reality – a reality that will pave the economy for decades to come.



Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


John Burns   17/01/2017 at 13:50

He says TfN want to use some of the HS2 lines. Well as they are planned I can't see what good they would be in the North West, unless they are re-designed. If TfN does go for a full HS3 (they want a new line into Liverpool) then the best route through Manchester is direct via the west to east aligned Victoria station north of Manchester's city centre, not Piccadilly. Piccadilly faces the wrong way. Branching Liverpool's HS3 section into the planned HS2 line in Cheshire is a lot of very expensive HS2 track, not to mention some extensive tunnelling in Manchester. It must be cheaper to close down Piccadilly terminal (keep the through platforms outside the main train shed) and enlarge Victoria to a much more useful through super-station giving one point for all connections. Perfect. Terminal stations are not necessary in inland cities. The two stations are now connected via the Ordsall Chord, so trains from the south can easily reach Victoria. So, HS2 north up to Wigan and Liverpool and Manchester branch into HS2 via HS3. Common sense there. Trains from the west of Manchester run directly through, not a meander to the south and back up to the north somewhere. TfN have to use this approach as everyone gains. And far greater value for money, killing many birds with one stone.

Richard Gadsden   18/01/2017 at 14:39

John Burns needs to learn how to count tracks. There are six tracks into Piccadilly. There are two on the Oxford Road Viaduct and Ordsall Chord. Even if there was magically enough space at Victoria for the 20+ new platforms needed to replace Piccadilly (and no, John, the Arena isn't that big), there would be no way to get all the trains there. You'd either have to widen the entire route through the city centre - and you'll remember that getting two tracks through Ordsall was a tight squeeze for which the planning went all the way to the Court of Appeal - or run a new, direct route to new Victoria, probably by bulldozing most of the Northern Quarter.

John Burns   18/01/2017 at 16:11

Once a 'terminal' station is converted to a 'through' station it can deal with the same level of passenger traffic with one third of the platforms. The trains switch back outside the city or town. Trains stop long enough for passengers to depart and alight, not sit there hogging platform space. Modern signalling also means the throughput of a 'through' station is much higher again. Berlin eliminated terminals to great success, with many crossrail lines created giving far greater connectivity and choice for passengers. Remember them? Passengers. Nearby Liverpool did this by demolishing Central and Exchange terminal stations, dropping the platforms underground and linking the two via tunnel, creating a crosssrail. All trains entering Manchester from the north, west, north east, Birmingham and London can go via 'through' station Victoria taking most of the traffic. The lines into Manchester from the south would carry little in comparison. The Ordsall Chord will get the trains from he south into Victoria. It may require some tunnelling under or around Victoria to get the new HS3 Liverpool (to HS2) line in. But it will be a well used 24/7 through tunnel not a poorly used dead end branch tunnel running into outdated Piccadilly as HS2 propose. HS2 to Manchester airport is crazy. High-speed rail competes with air not assist it acting as commuter train, as many strangely think will happen. Terminal stations are a wasteful Victorian legacy. This is the ideal opportunity to get the mess, that is the rail network around Manchester up to date and greatly serving the people.

John Burns   18/01/2017 at 19:04

Richard Gadsden, There are 4 tracks into Piccadilly station, that splay out into 6 tracks entering the station throat. As I mentioned, most traffic entering Manchester (and through traffic) would be funnelled into Victoria, including HS3 and HS2, that the two tracks on the new Ordsall Chord viaduct would be more than enough to cope with trains coming up from the south. In the London area some two platform stations with two tracks and and out cope with an amazing level of passengers and trains. Two tracks from the south could use more than one platform at a Victoria super-station.

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