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Expansion of rail ‘only viable option’ to grow UK cities

The expansion of rail is the “only viable option” to grow UK cities and allow them to achieve their economic potential, a new report has found.

The Urban Transport Group (UTG), an organisation which represents the UK’s largest urban transport authorities, released a report on Wednesday which aims to highlight the value of rail transport in meeting housing demand, creating attractive urban centres with less road traffic, and better air quality.

Highlights from the report include the rapid expansion in demand for rail in smaller UK towns — for example, passenger numbers have grown by 184% for St Helens Central Station, whilst Birmingham New Street has experienced an equally-massive surge of numbers by 149%.

Rail essential to cope with growing populations in the UK’s growing cities too, the transport group have said. With a growth of over a quarter of GVA (gross value added, measuring the value of goods and services produced in a certain area) per head in London, and an 18% increase in Manchester, rail “can help tackle the housing crisis without making traffic congestion worse.”

“Britain also has a housing crisis with not enough housing overall, not enough of it in the right places and not enough of it in the right format given social change,” the UTG said.

“Rail can do this through supporting denser housing in existing urban areas (through building denser housing on, or in close proximity to stations), through serving new residential developments on the fringe of urban areas, or supporting more commuting from distant existing suburban and urban centres,” the group added.

Bulk transport of goods can also be positively impact by the expansion and investment in rail, the UTG have added. Long-hauling bulk freight into urban freight terminals or to rail connected distribution hubs on the urban periphery can be better designed for the urban environment in terms of safety, propulsion and size.

The report sets out a five-point vision for 21st century rail cities based on: higher density and more reliable rail services, with a greater market share of city centre commuting; the use of new technologies such as tram-trains, rail networks which are integrated with wider public transport, and stations which act as hubs for business, housing, and community purposes.

Ben Still, managing director at West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Urban Transport Group’s lead board member for rail, said: “Rail is absolutely vital for creating city regions which are economically dynamic, green and sustainable, meet housing needs, and are ultimately exciting and rewarding places for people to live, work and spend time in.

“Only by expanding rail networks will we be able to get more people into the denser, less congested urban centres whilst unlocking more opportunities for housing development.”

Top image: YiuCheung via iStock 


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