Northern ambition

Speaking at the National Rail Conference in Leeds on November 5, Hoggarth highlights how the city’s railway station is the second busiest outside of London. He calls the city the “heart of the Northern Powerhouse”. “You’ll have noticed all the cranes on the city skyline,” he says, “which have gone up in the last few years, and they are evidence that the economy is growing. Just down the road in Bradford today, there is a £260 million shopping centre that was devoid of shops for much of the past decade. That has been rectified today, and that’s another sign of the growth of the economy. And economic growth is what Rail North is all about.”

Hoggarth is adamant HS2 will bring “enormous benefits” to the region. He highlights an economic benefits study, which predicts £1 billion worth of benefits to the West Yorkshire area alone as a result of the new railway. “We need to make sure the franchises and other developments are ready to capitalise on that,” Hoggarth says.

Rail North itself is not just about passengers. It is about the whole of the North: supporting economic growth through businesses and freight. Hoggarth has gone from working at one local authority, West Yorkshire, to working with 29 authorities in the North. He works with every political party as well. “We’ve been absolutely united in our aims. HS2 should not just be about Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, it needs to be about the whole of the North,” he says.

He talks of integration in the North. “Better integration is key, and that means both physically, in terms of trains and buses, and also a more integrated approach to developments and stations around the station. The stations are often just an island in the middle of a wider development and that really needs to change.”

Investment is key. Capitalising on HS2 is vital to attracting further investment, and what Rail North wants to achieve.

Rail North has formulated a long-term rail strategy that guides everything it does. Regarding how HS2 fits into that strategy, Hoggarth says: “HS2 benefits must spread across the entire region, but complementary measures will be needed to ensure there is good connectivity for those places directly on the HS2 route. We need to think how we’re going to use the extra capacity that’s going to be created by HS2, and look at how we can use that for both passengers and freight.”

The starting point for Rail North and HS2 is the new franchises for Northern and TransPennine Express, “but it goes significantly beyond that,” he adds. Within the strategy, there are key elements, he says. Connectivity - links between some Northern cities are really poor, such as between Sheffield and Bradford. Says Hoggarth “We carried out a study on the Yorkshire rail network, with the aim of highlighting the potential for improving the rail network for the whole of the North. It identified that you can generate up to £12 billion of economic benefit just by improving service frequency from the main centres.”

Referring to capacity, he highlights how services running on TPE appeared twice in a Department for Transport report on the top ten most crowded trains in the UK. He speaks of other regional services: “You can see the growth, even in the last year.”

He talks of coherence and elaborates: “We need to be a bit more like London. People there have a good understanding of the railway layout and it’s easy to use. We’re a long way from that in the North at the moment, but that’s how we want it to be.” 

Hoggarth says of Rail North: “We are up and running here now and we have lots of ambition, and a desire to do lots of things differently. If we deliver everything we set out in the long-term rail strategy, there will be 180% growth over the next ten to 15 years. We need to take full advantage of HS2, make plans for what happens beyond the next two franchises and start planning for HS3 as well. Rail North’s message is this: “We’re here, we’re in Leeds and we’re up for it, and we really want to make a difference.” 

Hynes, too, is keen to make a difference. He hopes a rail network in the north, ready for HS2, will be in place. He speaks of how rail services in the north could be even better than those in the south by 2020, and highlights the current disparity between long distance and local services: “You travel to Manchester Piccadilly from London on a state of the art Pendolino – then you have to take an old Pacer to Marple. 

“Now, last time I checked, we were the sixth richest country in the world. Those trains were designed as a stopgap for the nationalised railway. They were not built for taking people into Leeds and Manchester, but that is what we use them for every single day. So what would be the point of building HS2 if, when it arrives in the north, it then exits onto an ageing regional network?” 

He highlights how electrification and the introduction of refurbished trains is helping: “We put four more services, four more electric trains into service in December. You can see them operating in and out of Liverpool Lime Street. Passengers on those lines and routes are now getting a seat where before they didn’t. Just that small change is encouraging people to travel by train more. And the opportunity of commuting into city centres, such as Liverpool and Manchester, where there are better paid, high skilled jobs, is transforming people’s lives.”

He highlights these trains serve an industry experiencing a growth of about 5% per annum, meaning trains are 5% busier than they were last year. Between Manchester and Liverpool, there was an 11% volume growth on trains. “Think what is going to happen in the next five years as the next Northern rail franchise gets delivered,” he warns. 

Hynes backs it up: “When the next Northern franchise is announced and Transport for the North is established, we need to make sure that by the end of 2019 we have people travelling on new or refurbished trains, and using smart ticketing. 

“So what does that all mean? We aim to create a northern rail network that is HS2 ready, which doesn’t merely react and respond to growth, but actually drives growth in the north of England. It will use new retailing methods, and there will be new stations and new trains. We will have a bigger, better electric train network, featuring better productivity and better customer service. We will have created a railway that the north can be proud of.” 

  • This feature was published in the HS2 supplement of RAIL 789 (December 9 2015)

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