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Convention of the North agrees first-ever meeting after weeks of rail chaos

After weeks of widely-reported disruption and delays across the northern rail network, political and business leaders have met up in Newcastle to agree the first official meeting date for the brand-new Convention of the North, which will seek to represent the region’s views on transport nationally.

First mooted in February by Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, Greater Manchester and Liverpool mayors respectively, the convention will be officially established this summer. Its first official meeting will be held in Newcastle on 6 September.

Council leaders, mayors, business leaders and representatives from unions, community groups and other organisations will come together to discuss the issues and opportunities ahead.

Top of the priority list will be transport, which was the original motivation behind the idea for a convention after leaders expressed concern that the government could limit some options for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) later in the year during HS2 cost-cutting meetings. The convention was suggested as a way of aligning northern leaders and promoting a unified viewpoint on the future of both HS2 and NPR.

Since then, the region’s network has faced growing disruption and delays, particularly aggravated by Northern’s implementation of a new timetable. The operator’s boss, David Brown, recently told MPs in an inquiry that infrastructure problems, such as the failure to electrify the lines between Blackpool, Preston and Manchester, meant that the fresh timetable could not be implemented smoothly.

Even after an interim timetable was rolled out, Transport for the North (TfN) acknowledged that there were “still too many” delays, cancellations and overcrowded trains on the network. The operator and Network Rail have promised to review these failures ahead of December’s final timetable changes.

Earlier this month, northern business and council leaders also called on the government to hand TfN full powers to manage all northern infrastructure, since its limited authority at present means it is unable to avoid repeats of the ongoing timetable fiasco.

The need for greater devolution, including around transport, will be a major point of discussion at the Convention’s meeting in September.

Unlike TfN, though, it has discarded the possibility of becoming a new statutory body, but it will still meet regularly and speak for the north on national and regional matters. More details will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

The upcoming TransCityRail conference will bring together northern leaders to discuss these and other issues. To attend, book your place now!


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