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Multi-billion pound plans to transform rail in the north

A blueprint to transform travel in the north, including a new TransNorth rail system that could radically reduce travel times and complement the £50bn investment into HS2, has been launched this morning. 

The ‘TransNorth’ network – with sections capable of speeds up to 140mph – would link Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull. New routes, which would also reduce travel times significantly, costing £40bn-£65bn collectively, have been suggested: 

  • Leeds to Newcastle times of around 50 minutes (compared to a best time of 87 minutes currently): £8.5bn to £14bn – Option 1
  • Sheffield to Manchester times of around 27 minutes (best time 48 minutes currently), and Manchester to Leeds in around 30 minutes: £12bn to £19bn – Option 2
  • Manchester to Leeds times of around 30 minutes (best time 49 minutes currently): £6.5bn to £10bn – Option 3
  • Liverpool to Manchester times of around 20 minutes (best time 32 minutes currently): £8bn to £13bn – Option 4
  • Leeds to Hull times of around 28 minutes (best time 55 minutes currently): £5.5bn to £9bn – Option 5 

Upgrades and cut-offs costing £12.5bn to £23bn-plus 

  • Leeds to Newcastle journey times of around 70 to 80 minutes: £1bn to £4bn – Option 6
  • Sheffield to Manchester times of around 39 minutes: £3bn to £5bn – Option 7
  • Manchester to Leeds times of around 34 minutes: £4.5bn to £7bn – Option 8
  • Liverpool to Manchester times of around 23 minutes: £4bn to £7bn – Option 9
  • Sheffield to Hull times of around 60 minutes (compared to a best time of 86 minutes currently) through upgrading the existing route – Option 10 – or using HS2 into Leeds, combined with the proposed Leeds to Hull improvements 

Transport for the North (TfN) unveiled the ambitious vision at the Port of Liverpool this morning in a joint report with the government – ‘The Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda, One Economy, One North’. 

Network Rail’s work on the ‘Northern transport strategy’ sets out a long-term strategy for upgrades and new lines between key northern cities, building on the concept of High Speed 3. 

However, these projects are still some way off and the money suggested must be found by the next government. 

The government said it will deliver HS2 – Britain’s new north-south high speed railway – in the north sooner by preparing a dedicated Hybrid Bill to lay during the next Parliament. This is with a view to bringing HS2 to Crewe sooner than planned, subject to further analysis and final decisions on preferred route. 

It will also look at the case for accelerating the construction of the route between Leeds and Sheffield, and allowing it to be used by fast regional train services. 

Sir Richard Leese, chair of the TfN Partnership Board and leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Our vision is for a north which has a vibrant and growing economy, acts as a magnet for inward investment, and which capitalises on the strengths of the great cities of the north.” 

TfN has also called for immediate action to simplify rail fares across the north, eliminating the “unfair price differences that exist at present”. It is also drawing up proposals for a fares structure for an integrated northern travel area. 

Work will also begin on developing contactless travel cards that can be used across northern cities as well as on providing simpler, more unified information for passengers, making it easier for them to plan and make their journeys. 

The chancellor and transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, are in the north west today to launch the report. After meeting with northern leaders at the Port of Liverpool’s container terminal L2, he is joining the Chancellor on a visit to Stockport to discuss the ‘Northern transport strategy’. 

McLoughlin said: “Creating a northern powerhouse of jobs, investment and prosperity, is a key objective of the government’s long term economic plan. We are planning for transport and growth in a new joined-up way. Today we set out a comprehensive strategy for the northern economy which will help the north pool its strengths. TfN gives the north a powerful new voice.” 

The government and TfN added that they will work together to a produce multi-modal freight and logistics strategy for the north, to help the private sector invest with confidence in ports and other freight centres. 

Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail manager, said: “Rail freight is an intrinsic part of the economy in the north of England transporting consumer products and bulk traffic such as coal, biomass, aggregates, steel and petrochemicals.  The north of England is the origin or destination of over 40% of UK rail freight volumes.  

“A freight strategy should define what capacity and intermodal terminals are needed to unlock rail’s potential to further reduce road congestion, road fatalities, infrastructure damage and pollution.” 

Stephen Joseph, chief executive at the Campaign for Better Transport, added that the plans for faster rail connections, simpler fares structures and smart ticketing systems are all big steps forward, and he is glad that the government has listened to research demonstrating the value of fairer and clearer fares across the region. 

“We also welcome the announcement that a multi-modal freight and logistics strategy will be produced, which must address the need to get more freight off the roads and on to rail,” he said. “However, plans for road projects including extra lanes to be added to motorways and a proposed tunnel under the Peak District are a waste of money and will undermine the effectiveness of the other measures proposed. New roads create new traffic, and will not help to solve the region's needs for a sustainable transport system.” 

To ensure the TfN plans are carried forward, a clear governance structure and an independent chair for TfN will be in place by autumn 2015, memorandums of understanding will be agreed with Network Rail, High Speed 2 Ltd and Highways England in spring 2015 and the strategy will be updated in spring 2016. 

The government added that it will also look to make a multi-year commitment of funding to TfN supporting the vision set out in the report. However, by the time this happens the structure of government may be somewhat different. 

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


Graham Nalty   20/03/2015 at 12:55

This is really great news. But this investment will only bring a positive return if local transport in cities is also improved with increased capacity on commuter lines, and joined up local connectivity at the stations by rail, bus and light rail. However this does ignore the southern extremity of the Northern Powerhouse, namely the lines from Nottingham to Derby, Stoke and on to Liverpool, Wirral and North Wales. Let us have some effective high speed upgrades on this East - West corridor as well.

Jak Jaye   20/03/2015 at 14:28

What is in Leeds that would make anyone want to get there in 50 mins? yet more wasted taxpayers money

Mike   20/03/2015 at 14:49

Option two looks like the old Woodhead tunnel route, an intercity line built over a 100 years ago who's derelict track bed is available now, could also be completed quickly and cheaply and would benefit both Leeds and Sheffield. A lot of the hard infrastructure is in place with the tunnels still there and requiring only minor work for a HS2 train to use them. It would also act as a link between the two legs of the HS2 line and could also act as a diversionary line when required. With fast nonstop intercity traffic taken off the overcrowded lines from Lancashire to Yorkshire the services on those lines would benefit from the extra released capacity and increased route availability. Freight traffic could also use the extra capacity to reduce traffic on the M62. To build a new line from Manchester to Leeds would be expensive due to the terrain and towns it would pass through and would not offer the benefits region wide that Woodhead would offer. We have seen the progress on the Borders Railway the Woodhead route would be less complicated and offer a much higher return on investment. By choosing a cheaper and simpler route the left over cash could be used to bring other closed lines back into use (i.e. Colne to Skipton) and even build new lines (i.e. link both Bradford Stations together) both these would help to increase capacity and route options.

Paul H   20/03/2015 at 17:08

Even ignoring the problem that the sixty-year old 'new' Woodhead Tunnel has now been used for electric power lines, is anybody sure that high-speed and large gauge HS2 trains would actually fit (other than on a single line)? As built the tunnel didn't even fully comply with the MoT Desirable Structure Gauge of the time for conventional trains, let alone current European standards for high speed operation.

Lesf   20/03/2015 at 17:55

Good if this is the first ever stab at an integrated transport strategy. But why just for the north? What about the rest of the country? Like HS2 it's someone's wet dream, with the problems of connecting it all together left as "someone else's problem". Only a NATIONAL plan is worth considering. And the 20th March announcement is not even a plan. It's a number of woolly options. The means of connecting Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield via Woodhead is the obvious choice but DfT are still going round in circles some years after the superiority of that route was demonstrated. The inadequacy of the existing tunnels doesn't matter; it's the route that's priceless as part of a NATIONAL high speed network.

Mikeb   20/03/2015 at 20:45

Surely, before building a new East-West high speed line, electrification of more "classic" lines in the North must be considered. Liverpool South Parkway-Trafford Park, Hazel Grove-Sheffield and the Calder Valley line must be wired, in order to improve journey times for most Trans-Pennine services.

Geordie   22/03/2015 at 10:45

STILL no mention of an HS2 link into Liverpool city centre. Why?

Neil Palmer   22/03/2015 at 18:32

Paul H The Woodhead route itself is as valuable as, if not more so than, the actual tunnel. Using modern TBM's a new bore (or bores) could be created close to the existing ones.

Rayg   22/03/2015 at 21:06

This is just political gas bagging to get your votes, don't be fooled, it just will not happen.

Geordie   23/03/2015 at 13:11

The Manchester bits will happen, but not the rest. That's been government policy from both parties for 20 years.

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