Tim Wood: Transforming City Connections in the North

Northern Powerhouse Rail- Transforming City Connections in the North

Northern Powerhouse Rail is a flagship programme in Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan, which maps out a transformational and wholly achievable economic vision for a flourishing North of England. The project will strengthen East-West connections, by providing faster, more frequent, higher capacity links which will drive economic growth between northern towns and cities. The network will also provide faster north-south networks, by linking with HS2. By 2050, the resulting effect of Transport for the North’s vision will be a £100 billion GVA boost to the economy, with a phenomenal 850 000 extra jobs.

Powering the North

Northern Powerhouse Rail is a vital project which will build on the existing infrastructure in the North, whilst broadening it with new lines. The idea came about as a logical question: how we can maximise the value and effectiveness of HS2, and link it effectively to the local communities it will serve? Of course, Northern Powerhouse Rail isn’t just about connecting people to other UK regions. After all, most Northern rail journeys that begin in the North, end in the North.

Upgraded lines will stretch as far North as Newcastle, whilst the currently overcrowded Transpennine route will be given a new lease of life, to ensure it is future proofed against the predicted six to eight times passenger demand increase between main urban centres by 2050. The new Northern Powerhouse Line will be a combination of new and significantly upgraded lines. This will accommodate for fast, cross regional travel and opens the North as a true global gateway through a more accessible Manchester Airport; 3 million more people will be within an attractive 90 minutes reach.

The Long-Term Rail Strategy in the Strategic Transport Plan aims to secure long term funding and sets standards for railway development. The strategy concentrates on connectivity, capacity, customers, community and cost effectiveness. These values will be incorporated into Northern Powerhouse Rail, ensuring it is a project which not only generates significant economic benefits, but is also a railway which drives modal shift from private car ownership to eager public transport take up.

Fast Freight

Freight makes up 9% of the country’s GDP, and directly supports all industries by supplying goods and services. Over a third of total UK rail freight is handled in the North, and this figure could rise imminently; Northern Powerhouse Rail will cement the North’s capability to competitively grasp this opportunity by linking the North’s major ports.

Transport for the North’s Freight Report highlights that there is an increased need for the public sector to nurture private sector investment. Associated British Ports (ABP) announced a £36 million investment in its container terminal at Immingham, after spending £14 million at nearby Hull this year. Peel Ports also recently invested £400 million in a deep-water container port, which can now handle 97% of the world’s cargo. Northern Powerhouse Rail will be the vital link between these ideally placed hubs, raising the fortunes of the North by providing a through-way of imports at Liverpool, and transferring these efficiently to Hull, for onward shipment to Europe.

Over the next three decades, growth in northern road and rail freight is expected to rise by 50%. It is more cost effective and efficient to transfer freight by rail over longer distances, meaning new opportunities will arise for the construction of multimodal terminals and distribution centres.

Powering Business

The priority of the Strategic Transport Plan is to encourage the development of the North’s economic strengths, such as the Prime Capabilities of Energy, Advanced Manufacturing, Digital, and Health Innovation, but also our valuable cultural assets such as our national parks.

Businesses are right behind the proposed rail connections and have always voiced a need for reliable connections. Northern Powerhouse Rail will require significant investment, but not without a striking economic return. By bringing businesses and their talent pools closer together, it is forecasted that the future Northern deficit will be reduced by an incredible £17 billion per annum. This is fundamental for the North’s economic growth and will play a role in rebalancing the national economy.

Currently, only 10,000 people are within one hour of four or more of the North’s largest cities. With Northern Powerhouse Rail, this number will rise significantly to 1.3 million, allowing businesses to recruit a workforce from further afield. Further to this, an unnecessary 25% productivity gap exists between the North and the rest of the UK. This figure will be combatted by Northern Powerhouse Rail by shortening journey times and allowing more rail passengers to use the network.

Skills for the Future  

To build a world class railway, we need to start developing and attracting a world class work force. Through encouraging the uptake of transport-centric skills, we can assist the supply chain with finding the right talent to deliver the vision, but we can’t do this alone. A combined effort of developing apprenticeships, internships and degree programmes across the public and private sectors, with proactive advisory input into academic courses, will be essential.

Exciting times lie ahead for the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail. The benefits clearly tower above the costs, and the project is underlined by strategic long-term thought, as well as evidence. The project will crucially unlock the unspent economic power held within the region. We all have our part to play to make this happen; from developing the skills in rail infrastructure, to digital innovation, we have a duty to start laying the foundations now for the next generation of people living in the North of England.

Tim Wood is the Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North, and will be speaking on growing Northern rail networks to support growing urban economies at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.