he run-up to the publication of the long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan has been noisy with northern MPs, metro mayors and cities, think-tanks, trade unions and northern newspapers and local radio making a very public case as to why the Eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) should proceed as previously promised by the Prime Minister and his party’s 2019 election manifesto.
Just 18 months ago the Prime Minister told Parliament in a statement following the Oakervee Review, that it ‘does not make any sense’ to build Northern Powerhouse Rail without HS2 and the Government’s strategy was to do both ‘simultaneously.’ Since then we have had an almost incessant political drum-beat around levelling up. Bearing all of this in mind, it is no wonder that so many are aggrieved at what has been presented today which should clearly be viewed as a broken promise.
The Government will, of course, claim that at £96 billion, it still presents the biggest ever investment in our railways – even if much of that figure has previously been announced.
From an industry perspective, it is also clear to me that another change in approach does not help – as a sector we have scaled up expertise and invested in skills in response to these public pledges and at a time of global demand for rail expertise, we will be left picking up the pieces.
However, the Plan does present new opportunities for the sector. Whether with rail delivery itself, or associated projects, we can put ourselves confidently forward as natural partners for Government.
The Plan does present new opportunities for the sector. Whether with rail delivery itself, or associated projects, we can put ourselves confidently forward as natural partners for Government. Andy Bell, chair ACE transport group
Members will be pleased to see announcements and confirmations of an Oyster-like ticketing system for Midlands and the North, electrification of the Midlands, East Coast and Transpennine mainlines, upgrading the line between Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, and even the work scoping a potential West Yorkshire Metro and a more affordable Leeds to HS2 link – these are all areas where ACE members have extensive knowledge, expertise and experience.
Rail has a key role to play in unlocking our Net Zero future. The announcement of 400 miles of electrification is – of course – welcome, but more should also be done for freight. Recent strains on the logistics sector and a lack of HGV drivers, have reminded many that goods can also be moved across the UK by rail too. Here the plan isn’t nearly clear, nor ambitious enough. We’d like to see more detail on this in the future.
The Plan is by no means perfect, and I do have concerns over long-term capacity on our network without a dedicated high-speed backbone to it, but as an industry we stand ready to make the new approach work. What is needed is a coherent and dependable pipeline of work for efficient rail investment, and for it to be seen as a priority for the Department for Transport, so we can plan accordingly.
However, as an industry we should be happy the Plan presents plenty of opportunities for us to demonstrate that we are the natural delivery partner of choice for the rail network, and we look forward to engaging Network Rail, and successor GB Rail, to help deliver it.
Andy Bell is a director at Ramboll in the UK and chair of ACE’s transport group.
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