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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Chamber Blog: The Great Train Robbery


By Chris Fletcher, Director of Policy and Communications at Greater Manchester Chamber of 
Commerce


For the past decade the Chamber, along with a number of other organisations, has been resolute in campaigning for much needed investment in local rail services through the Northern Hub.

At times it’s been like the fund raising efforts for a new church roof with bits of funding being cobbled together or released piecemeal by central government.  Indeed it was less than 12 months ago that the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle was put in place and the last amount required to fund the project was confirmed.

Whilst London had Crossrail and Thameslink we had the Northern Hub. Maybe not as sexy but it felt like it was ours – something that would really make a difference, something that united not divided. On offer - an extra 700 train services a day (that’s 44million extra passenger spaces a year), up to 15 minutes off the journey time Liverpool to Manchester, new platforms at Piccadilly, the Ordsall Curve and all for £560m with a cost benefit ratio of 4:1 – the best ever for a rail scheme in the UK.

A real winner if ever there was one I’m sure everyone would agree. Well, maybe not especially for the good folks at the Office of Rail Regulation who for some reason that I still can’t understand, are looking at possible cuts of 20% to the Northern Hub as part of the Periodic Review 2013.

I’ll repeat that – a cut of 20% - that’s approximately £115m on a scheme that has taken over a decade to be fully funded will have a massive impact on overstretched rail services and will be one of the biggest catalysts you could think of for economic growth across the North of England. Another example of growth through cuts?

I have written to the ORR expressing concern at the proposal. This is just a start though. We need to show the same level of support that we garnered for the scheme in the first place to make sure this clawback does not take place.

Some would argue that there lurks an ulterior motive behind this. I don’t think so. It’s another example of reckless penny pinching with no concept whatsoever of what the impact is.

Coming so soon on the back of news of price hikes next year in rail fares and you do wonder what on earth is going on.

Just over 50 years ago a criminal gang pulled off what became known as the Great Train Robbery. I always found that a bit of a misnomer. It was cash that went, not the train. If the above proposal goes through it could well be that not only will the cash go, but so will the trains and the tracks themselves.

If you want to register your concern about this please drop me an e-mail at chris.fletcher@gmchamber.co.uk.

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