Chancellor George Osborne declined to deliver any firm commitment on new or refurbished rolling stock for electrified lines in the North West of England, when speaking at an event on February 7 where he officially launched the start of construction work on the £600 million Northern Hub project.
The Northern Hub, which aims to provide faster, more regular and reliable rail connections between key northern towns and cities, and the North West Electrification Programme represent the biggest investment in the railway in the north of England for a generation.
The project is expected to bring some £4 billion of wider economic benefits to the region, as well as potentially 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs. Freight will also benefit, with the prospective doubling of the number of trains into the Trafford Park freight terminals.
But with less than a year to go before the next swathe of electrification goes live, the Chancellor was unable to make any firm promises regarding investment in rolling stock. Instead, he referred to the recently announced Crossrail contract (for trains that will run broadly 180 miles south of Manchester).
“We obviously want great trains to run on a great new set of railway connections, and I think you’ve just seen this week how Bombardier in Derby has secured the contract for the Crossrail trains,” he said.
“Now that’s in the south of England, in London. But it shows that we are investing in new rolling stock, new British manufacturing, and I would hope that kind of investment will be seen up here for the Northern Hub, for the Metrolink.
“I’m absolutely clear we’re going to have great trains on these tracks. You can only make these investments if you’re in charge of the economy, and in charge of public finances with a long-term economic plan.”
Osborne had been visiting Manchester Airport station, where a fourth platform and an extension to the Metrolink system are currently being built.
The Network Rail platform is being delivered some 18 months ahead of schedule. According to Transport for Greater Manchester chairman Andrew Fender, this has been made possible by “capitalising on the delivery of our new Metrolink line to Manchester Airport, funded entirely by the ten Greater Manchester authorities, which will add yet further links to this key employment centre”.
The fourth platform is expected to expand the airport’s catchment area across northern England, providing direct access for businesses and employees to the £800m Airport City development, which is transforming the area around the station into an international business hub.
The Metrolink platform and associated cripple siding is due to open in 2015, among a series of projects that will see more than £1bn invested in the railway in the area over the next five years.
These include the various electrification schemes, the opening of the Ordsall Chord in December 2016 (allowing the routing of more trains via Victoria, instead of the congested Piccadilly), and the increased frequency of trains between Liverpool and Manchester, and Leeds and Manchester. Direct trains from Manchester Airport to Bradford, Halifax and Rochdale will also be introduced for the first time.
The Chancellor was unable to give an idea of where sufficient funding would come from, following suggestions that the next Northern franchise will have less taxpayer support.
- This news article was published in RAIL 742 on 19 February 2014