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Friday, 24 April 2009

Friday Guest Blogger: Alan Salter, Transport Matters

Northern Way calls for Manchester Rail Hub

Experts have said today that the economy of the north of England will benefit by up to £16bn from improvements to Manchester’s rail network, for the congested tracks around Piccadilly are holding up trains linking all the north’s major cities.

The Northern Way group of Regional Development Agencies has published the first stage of a study into freeing rail congestion around the ‘Manchester Hub’ which was announced by then Tansport Miister Rosie Winterton at Piccadilly Station in October, 2007.

Network Rail will study the Northern Way findings and produce its own report on how much the improvements will cost. The Manchester Hub is “the greatest single strategic transport issue facing the North of England”, Northern Way officials said at the launch of their findings at Manchester’s Hilton Hotel today.

Professor David Begg, one of the country’s best known transport experts who led the research, said: “The most significant finding from our work is simply this: a feasible package of measures that includes greater connectivity across Manchester would bring between £13bn and £16bn economic benefits for the North of England and beyond.”

The findings say the work should aim for:
• more capacity to meet forecast 39% growth in demand by 2020
• reduced carbon emissions
• better performance of franchised rail services
• 60 miles per hour as a minimum for trains from Piccadilly and Victoria to neighbouring cities
• Train journeys which are quicker than car journeys e.g. Liverpool and Preston in half an hour; Leeds, Sheffield, and Chester in 40 minutes; and Bradford in 50 minutes
• Longer journey times to Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Hull cut to 133, 124 and 101 minutes respectively.

The improvements would support growth across Greater Manchester by improving access to the key town centres and Salford Quays, as well as the growth areas in and around the centre of Manchester.

They should promote more direct cross-Manchester trains or better interchanges where this cannot be done. And Manchester Airport needs better links to destinations across the North as well as North Wales and the West and North Midlands. It wants 95 per cent of the airport’s passengers to be able to get there by train seven days a week.

The three Trans Pennine rail corridors - to and from Liverpool and Central Lancashire in the west; and through to Tyne and Wear, Tees Valley and Hull and the Humber in the east via Leeds or Sheffield – should be improved to support high frequency, high quality, regular express trains. The improvements should meet forecasts of a doubling of West Coast Main Line demand by 2026 and to get ready for any new high speed lines being considered by Government.

Professor Begg added: “If the North is to play its part in national economic recovery, it will be through business growth in our major cities which are inter-connected by rail through Manchester. A joined-up North, provided with highly reliable, direct express services, is part of the vision that we have defined. Investment in Manchester is needed to deliver it.”

“The benefits we have identified are widely spread across the North. Manchester Hub is not about one or two key flows. Growth in rail demand is highest in Manchester local commuter markets, and the greatest rates of benefits are on the main corridors linking the North’s seven other City Regions with Manchester. There are also significant growth objectives related to the West Coast Main Line corridor and railfreight as well.”

“Manchester Hub is about a long term solution to a problem that affects the development of national, regional and local rail services. This is the question that Network Rail needs to address.”

“Given the scale of benefits on offer, it will be right for Network Rail to consider a full range of options in taking the next stage of work forward. Our work demonstrates Manchester Hub is a challenge to which it is worth devoting considerable resources.”

Steven Broomhead, Chief Executive of the North West Regional Development Agency, said: "The Agency welcomes this first phase report. Investment in the Manchester Rail Hub is essential for effective rail operations not only in the Northwest but the entire North of England.

“It should help to unlock a number of key drivers of the economy, including faster journey times between our northern cities and extra freight and passenger capacity. Long term planning is essential to deliver rail infrastructure provision and we look forward to working with Network Rail on the second phase of this report".

Paul Plummer, director of planning and regulation at Network Rail, said: “The report shows how key rail is to the future of the north of England.

“In the past five years many more passengers have chosen to travel by rail across the north and we are committed to building on this success.

“Network Rail already plans to make significant investments in the north over the next five years. These will see longer trains carrying more passengers right across the north, improvements at a number of stations and more trains on time than ever before.

“But we also need to plan now for the longer term. Network Rail is taking the ambitions set out by The Northern Way report and looking for value for money solutions to meet these.”
Network Rail has now begun a follow up study to identify the options for long-term improvements to the rail network in the north of England"

Richard Critchley, Transport Policy Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber, said: "Good railway connections are vital for the Greater Manchester economy. The Northern Way study shows the importance of network improvements in order to meet growing demand which could could be worth an additional £13 - £16 billion to the Northern Economy. It is vital that the Government looks seriously at investing in the long term future of the Greater Manchester rail network, an essential driver for our region's growth. "

About Alan Salter: Alan is the former Transport correspondent of the Manchester Evening News. Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport journalist of the year 2007 for the second time, he has covered every major development of the transport industry over the last three decades from the privatisation of the rail and bus industries to the opening of the Channel Tunnel and the coming of congestion charging. Alan is now the Managing Director of Transport Matters, offering journalism and Public Relations services to the media and transport industry. You can email Alan at: alan.salter@transportmatters.co.uk
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