Transport for the North tells PM to deliver investment and drivers

Freight train and passenger train at Manchester Oxford Road (Rail Delivery Group)Image Rail Delivery Group

Transport for the North, the UK sub-national body responsible for the north of England, says two critical actions are required to realise the region’s economic potential. Not surprisingly, one is developmental levels of infrastructure investment, with rail freight high on the shopping list. The other is also something for which there is considerable competition – new train drivers.

Rail freight will convey the growing economy of the north of England, making the region more prosperous and delivering the UK government’s economic ‘levelling up’ agenda. Analysts claim that raising the output of the north of England to a level comparable with the prosperous London and the South East will transform the prospects of the whole country. Transport for the North has conveyed that sentiment to the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, in an open letter delivered to the government in Westminster.

Congested and unfit communications

Board Members at Transport for the North have set out key priorities to boost economic growth in their region of England and progress towards the levelling up agenda. TfN has called on the government for investment that will help transform the North of England’s economy and lay the foundations for sustainable future growth. The TfN Board has written to the new Prime Minister, setting out the North’s urgent and immediate priorities.

Engineers carrying out major rail upgrades between Manchester and Stalybridge. Transport for the North would like to see a new dedicated line built to add even more capacity (Network Rail)

The major settlements of the region are hamstrung by poor communications. Moving goods and people between Liverpool on the west coast and Manchester and Leeds to east coast ports such as Newcastle and Leeds is both congested and unfit for developmental demands. Transport for the North is making the case that the North needs major projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 to be completed in full, and local and regional improvements to the existing congested rail network to unlock freight and passenger capacity.

Driver training academy proposed

According to TfN, a programme of actions are essential and could be delivered immediately without jeopardising the government’s urgent plans to safeguard households and businesses this winter. In addition to commitments to longer-term projects, TfN want confirmation on public transport fare support and extensions on support for road and rail public transport operators for a further six months beyond the planned end date, to September 2023.

The most radical demand of all calls for the government to address a shortage that threatens to derail all their ambitions for the region – a shortage that is becoming acute across the entire rail industry. “Given the current impacts of critical driver shortages on services, there is an urgent need to recruit and train drivers to strengthen the resilience of rail operations”, say TfN. “We advocate developing a driver training academy, building on proposals by Northern Trains Limited [the main passenger operator in the region].”

Commitments made in Leeds by prime minister

The level of investment needed is substantial in both infrastructure and people. TfN has made their concerns and proposals known to Westminster in an open letter to Liz Truss, the new prime minister. The letter has been delivered ahead of next week’s emergency budget, to be presented by the new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng. The letter to the prime minister is signed by Lord Patrick McLoughlin, the chair of TfN and himself a former transport secretary. The text congratulates Liz Truss on her commitment to seeing Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) constructed in full, a commitment made at a meeting in Leeds during her recent campaign for the leadership of the ruling Conservative Party.

Lord Patrick McLoughlin is chair of Transport for the North.

“We have developed clear and agreed on plans for the network, cost at 43 billion pounds [around 51 billion euro], including our preferences for a mix of new lines and major upgrades spanning from Liverpool in the west to Hull in the east, and from Newcastle in the north to Sheffield in the south”, says McLoughlin’s letter. “Early confirmation will send a clear signal to the North about the government’s intentions to reverse decisions taken in the Integrated Rail Plan, including on the Eastern Leg of HS2 [which was cancelled and cut off cities including Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds]. The Transport Select Committee concluded that the proposals published in the IRP fail to achieve the long-term step change for the rail network across the North.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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