Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Rail Report Aims at Ways to Level Up Services for the North and Midlands

Study of Potential Infrastructure Improvements Prompts Cancel HS2 Call
Shipping News Feature

UK – The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has published its final report on the benefits or otherwise on five packages of rail investment based on the potential options on eight key routes in the North and Midlands. Although principally passenger orientated, the report has implications for the future of freight and intermodal transport by rail.

The report stems from the government’s request to the Commission in February to carry out an assessment of rail needs in the Midlands and the North of England, to inform the development of the government’s Integrated Rail Plan. In July, the Commission published an interim report, which covered rail and economic outcomes, the Commission’s methodology, and set out a series of questions for stakeholders. The Commission conducted an extensive stakeholder engagement process as part of this Assessment, including social research, a call for evidence and several virtual briefings.

The Commission assessed the benefits of the five packages for economic growth and competitiveness, and for sustainability and quality of life, and concluded the government should commit to a core pipeline of stable, affordable investments, as part of a wider economic strategy for levelling up. The Commission’s analysis showed that prioritising regional links is likely to deliver the highest potential economic benefits to the Midlands and the North and decided that the package focusing on upgrades is unlikely to meet the strategic objective of levelling up in the North and the Midlands.

Focus group responses included several key findings, with most respondents doubting that new lines would or could be delivered. They prioritised minimal disruption in completing the works over the potential for delays in completion and dismissed faster train speeds as an important factor but looked for increased capacity. The groups also found it hard to make the case that rail and economic growth were directly connected.

The report was immediately seized upon by Lord Tony Berkeley who concluded the government should welcome and take forward the recommendations. He pointed out the report says that the need for rail improvements is greatest in the regions, and that therefore priority should be given to upgrades in these areas and, if the money was available, prioritising regional links, concentrating on East West links in the North Liverpool – Manchester – Leeds/Sheffield and beyond. He continued:

”I welcome this report and its emphasis on delivering rail improvement in the North and Midlands regions where the economic need is greatest. It is the first report from a government agency that challenges the runaway costs of HS2 and recommends that any enhancements beyond upgrades should be dependent on whether the core schemes are delivered ‘on time and within the budget’.

”Applying this to HS2 should mean cancelling it tomorrow and spending the money in the regions, where there are many shovel ready projects, including electrification of the Northern parts of the Midland Main Line and improving the Castlefield corridor in Manchester. It is a very sensible and pragmatic report, and is very much in line with much of what I said in my dissenting Oakervee report dated January 2020.

”I do urge political leaders in the North to welcome this realistic report into the real economic and transport needs of their regions, for upgrades and regional links, ones which can most easily be delivered on time and to budget. As the Secretary of State for Transport said ‘we have only one pot of money’. He should also reinstate into this pot the £1 billion that was removed from Network Rail’s enhancement budget in the recent Spending Review. I strongly support the overall view of the National Infrastructure Commission which clearly thinks that this pot should be spent in the Regions.”

Photo: Original image a still from Creative Commons Video copyright 2010 Ian Britton.