In early 2010 Network Rail unveiled a new proposal known as Northern Hub, which is designed to transform rail travel in the north of England by delivering better services and more capacity. Yet, Northern Hub is not a traditional ‘railway’ project, but instead takes a different viewpoint looking at how rail as a form of public transport can contribute to facilitating the growth of the northern economy.
The basis of this programme has therefore been steeped in detailed economic study in order to identify what needs to be done to respond to the growth in the region and to drive economic activity. Under the title of the Manchester Hub study, Phase One of the project was led by the Northern Way, which looked at the economic case for enhancement to rail around Manchester and across the North resulting in the creation of a series of conditional outputs.
“Out of this it became very clear that what was needed is faster and more frequent services between the cities of the North, and particularly to create direct journeys that do not require passengers to change trains in Manchester,” highlights Graham Botham, principal strategic planner for Network Rail’s London North West route. “Another major point is the importance of Manchester airport, which is the fourth largest airport in UK and the biggest outside of London, and providing businesses with international connectivity. The third key issue is the need to remove freight from the roads and reduce congestion, which therefore requires rail to provide significant volume to move inter-modal containers around the region.”
From these results Network Rail entered into the Northern Hub Phase Two, working with industry and external partners such as development agencies like Northern Way, and local enterprise partnerships to ensure that the services suggested are what the business community needs. Notably, plans for the Northern Hub include a 40 per cent increase in trains per day across the north of England, which equals around 700 extra services, the capacity to carry around 3.5 million more passengers each year, and quicker, more frequent services for key locations of Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield.
In terms of the impact this will have on the economy, an independent economic assessment conducted by KPMG on behalf of Transport for Greater Manchester suggests this could generate between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs, and in the range of £4 billion gross value to the region.Infrastructure interventions
With the outline of services in place, Network Rail has since turned its attention to those constraints that are preventing these being implemented today, and as such the infrastructure interventions required to facilitate this. At a combined value of £560 million, these broadly aim to open up capacity to run more frequent services through Manchester city centre, and to speed up journey times.
“With many services passing through Manchester this is a natural bottleneck in the system, so we are looking to alleviate this by making better use of Manchester Victoria station, and the provision of a new connection known as the Ordsall Chord. This will link together Manchester’s three main stations – Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road and Manchester Piccadilly – for the first time, as well as create a new direct service from the city centre into Manchester Airport,” describes Graham.
“We want to build two new through-platforms at Manchester Piccadilly and carry out works at Manchester Oxford Road in order to increase throughput on what is a key route across the south side of the city. This is also important for connecting into onward trains for London, the South East, the South West, and the Midlands,” he continues.
One fundamental building block towards achieving this is a scheme that Network Rail, in partnership with Transport for Greater Manchester, Manchester City Council and Northern Rail, is implementing at Manchester Victoria station. Intended for delivery by 2014, the project seeks to transform the passenger experience at the station to create something that is more in keeping with the modern city that Manchester is today. This will involve provision of a new roof and passenger facilities over the next two to three years at a value of £27 million.Need for speed
Other solutions within the programme are aimed at speeding up trains in order to bring journey times in the north more in line with those between key economic destinations in the south-east. “There are nearly five million people living across the M62 corridor in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, but this area doesn’t currently operate as one economic entity,” acknowledges Graham. “We hope that by improving services we will facilitate that. At present there are two main constraints on the speed of the trains between the cities, the biggest of which is the fact that this is a mixed-use railway. This means we are running inter-regional passenger trains, local passenger trains, and freight trains.
“In order to maximise this efficiency we are implementing various overtaking facilities at key points such as the route from Sheffield and approach to Liverpool, that will enable faster trains to overtake and run at speed whilst maintaining space for vital local services and freight. The announcement of a commitment to fund electrification of the railway through Manchester, Leeds and York, likewise means that services can be sped up as electric trains both accelerate and decelerate more quickly than diesel trains. Alongside that we are implementing a number of infrastructure works as required to allow these speeds to be achieved,” he adds.Economic case
Although the Northern Hub is still not fully funded at this point, the project has advanced far more rapidly than first anticipated, ahead of the intended delivery between 2014 and 2019. “We weren’t expecting a decision from Government regarding the scheme ahead of the publishing of the High Level Output Specification this summer, yet in the last two Budgets the Chancellor has announced bringing forward funding of £85 million in 2011 and a further £135 million in March this year. We believe this is a tremendous vote of confidence in what Northern Hub can deliver in the meantime, whilst we wait for Government to make a decision regarding full funding,” enthuses Graham.
As a result of this early commitment, work is currently underway on the Ordsall Chord link to developing designs and the necessary applications for planning permission. The Chancellor’s recent announcements to bring forward infrastructure improvements between Manchester, Sheffield, and the East Midlands will help double the frequency and improve the speed of trains between South Yorkshire and the East Midlands, and Manchester and Liverpool.
“One of the things that we’re working very hard on is to make sure that everything we’re doing is integrated across the whole railway system,” notes Graham. “As such, we’re currently undertaking a key piece of work with the north-west electrification programme, operators and the Department for Transport (DfT) to look at the whole concept for planned timetable changes and what needs to be in place for this to happen. It’s not just about building new infrastructure, but also having electric trains ready for the new services and how we can generate a bigger fleet in order to run more trains, and delivering this in a robust manner.”Future model
Although the Northern Hub is motivated by economic outcomes as opposed to rail itself, the scheme shares a lot of the same concerns that the industry is addressing a wider level such as capacity and greater efficiency. As such, Network Rail is drawing upon expertise from across the industry, partially through the Northern Hub steering group which includes passenger transport executives (PTE) and other train operators, DfT, and the external business community, in order to deliver this in the best value-for-money way possible.
In terms of the potential for rail to offer economic benefits on a wider scale, Graham concludes with how the Northern Hub is setting this thinking in motion: “Increasingly we are both now as an industry and stakeholders, looking at how rail works in the context of contributing to the UK economy. The future long-term planning process that we’ve launched, in development with the industry, very much looks at individual markets and what rail does in that segment – whether it’s long distance, inter-urban or urban. This is very much the model going forwards I believe, which builds on what has been done in the past with the likes of Thameslink and Crossrail. We are already getting feedback with regards to the Northern Hub project from local enterprise partnerships, particularly in Greater Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds City regions, saying that this is something they need to make business flourish, so we hope to be able to deliver on it.”
Northern Hub (Network Rail)
Tel: +44 (0) 20 3356 8700