Rail Industry Focus


Building the North's new railways

Source: RTM Feb/March 2019

Mike Hulme and Justin Moss, co-chairs of Northern Rail Industry Leaders, look at how the supply chain is working with Transport for the North (TfN) to deliver benefits for the region in light of its recent White Paper.

These are exciting times for the north of England. At the end of January, TfN set out its plan for the north’s economy over a 30-year period. The Strategic Transport Plan shows how the north can generate £70bn of investment by 2050, contributing towards an additional £100bn in economic growth and creating 850,000 extra jobs.

Rail, of course, plays a prominent role within this vision. The plan not only sets out how the north will deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), the proposed rail upgrade between major northern cities, but the role of HS2 and strategic interventions through the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline and a long-term rail strategy.

Put together, these interventions will be transformative. NPR, for example, will bring 1.3 million people within reach of four or more of the north’s largest economic centres in under an hour, compared with just 10,000 people currently. Similarly, HS2 will provide connections to economic centres across the country, and will spur investment, jobs, and economic growth.

Supporting the vision

Rail businesses in the region have been keen to support TfN’s work and to offer our services to ensure the north makes the most of its planned investment. In 2015, a collection of companies involved in rail in the north west of England formed a special interest group, primarily focused on promoting the needs of the local industry with an emphasis on skills and innovation.

Since then, the group has flourished, recently expanding to encompass the whole of the north by merging with a similar group from the east. And, with the assistance of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), the group relaunched in March 2018 as the Northern Rail Industry Leaders (NRIL), with the key aim of supporting TfN’s business plans.

In February, NRIL set out its plans in a new White Paper, ‘Building the North’s New Railways,’ setting out how the supply chain can support TfN directly. The report, which was launched on 21 February, examines the key areas of supporting TfN: delivering value, decarbonisation, digitalisation, people and skills, and leading-edge research and innovation. These areas, NRIL believes, are where the supply chain can offer even greater value and give the north a world-leading industry and economic legacy. Crucially, the report also parallels a number of areas within the Rail Sector Deal, thereby providing a regional angle to the important work done by the Rail Supply Group, government, and industry.

Building the North’s New Railways

What is contained within the report? Firstly, it sets out the context of the rail system in the north. The network is one where investment is required to increase speed, capacity, connectivity, and to ensure the transport system is low carbon. However, there is a considerable supply base in the region with around 58,000 jobs in the rail supply sector, supporting 2.1% of the Northern Powerhouse’s economic growth. There are major rolling stock manufacturers present, providers of maintenance and overhaul services; components, signalling, electrification, telecoms, and software companies; and a number of track systems providers too.

NRIL believes this supply base could be utilised further. Our first recommendations call for TfN to work with us to support their plans further, to ensure the industry is prepared to deliver efficiently, on time, and to cost. The report then goes on to look at how the supply chain can provide further value: by TfN rewarding companies that have a local economic impact; by developing a stable pipeline of work, both within TfN and by speaking to external partner organisations; and by developing an early contractor involvement scheme similar to that promoted by Digital Railway. The report also calls for TfN to focus on outcome-based specifications that allow a whole-life cost approach to infrastructure.

On decarbonisation, the report calls for the development of a decarbonisation route map, and for both conventional electrification and low to zero carbon self-powered trains to be included in TfN’s rail strategy. This reflects the government’s challenge to industry to decarbonise the rail network by 2040, giving the north the opportunity to be a leader in reducing carbon emissions.

The report also looks at digitalisation, where it highlights the value of in-cab signalling and digital technology. It recommends TfN work with NRIL to develop a digital route map focused on improving capacity, network reliability, and best-in-class customer experience.

On people and skills, the report proposes working with regional stakeholders like TfN, National College for High Speed Rail, National Skills Academy for Rail, and National Training Academy for Rail, to establish a northern implementation plan and to improve the uptake of apprenticeships – particularly within SMEs and micro-businesses. One possible way of doing this would be to pool unspent apprenticeship levy funding to help support small businesses provide apprenticeships in rail.

Finally, on leading-edge research and innovation, the report highlights the work of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and suggests the region uses this new initiative to spur innovation – particularly as three universities within UKRRIN are located in the region.


NRIL’s preliminary calculations suggest an additional 10,000 jobs in the rail supply chain and £589m in economic growth could be delivered per year with the correct engagement with the supply chain. There is also the opportunity to bring investment to communities with high social deprivation and who have previously not had access to training or jobs. With TfN and their vision, rail businesses have an exciting opportunity to transform the north of England into a global economic hub.

Next steps

The report has now been published and a delivery plan has been developed to track and prioritise the recommendations within it by working with the RIA, industry partners and, of course, TfN. To organisations looking to get involved with NRIL: our door is open, and we are always looking for rail organisations to bring their expertise and know-how to the table.

The north of England will experience transformational change over the coming few years. NRIL, and the rail supply chain, stand ready to support it.


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