DfT to partner with specialists to increase rail connectivity in UK

Posted: 21 August 2020 | | No comments yet

The formation of an Acceleration Unit by the UK government will result in the quicker delivery of a range of rail upgrades across the country.

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The UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced that vital rail upgrades that will create jobs, increase connectivity and boost the economy will be delivered more quickly, thanks to the launch of a new Acceleration Unit.

The new team of specialists will join the Department for Transport (DfT) in order to tackle delays to infrastructure projects and drive forward progress for passengers.

The unit is set to be in place in September 2020 and will be directly accountable to the Transport Secretary. It will be led by Darren Shirley, currently the Chief Executive of the Campaign for Better Transport.

Alongside the Acceleration Unit, the Transport Secretary also announced a raft of ambitious upgrades to Wales’ railways, with £343 million of investment to deliver better, faster and more reliable journeys for passengers.

This includes: Kickstarting design work on plans to upgrade Cardiff Central station; funding to develop plans for upgraded cutting-edge digital signalling on the 241km Cambrian line from Shrewsbury Sutton Bridge Junction to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli; and proposals to speed up journeys between Cardiff and Swansea, Chester and Llandudno Junction, and the Severn Tunnel and Cardiff.

UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “As Britain begins to get moving once again after four months of lockdown, no-one should underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead. We want to accelerate Britain’s recovery by investing in vital infrastructure that will help get businesses back on their feet, create jobs to replace those that have been lost and level up our country. The creation of our new Acceleration Unit and investment in our roads and railways will ensure we build back better, greener and faster in the future.”

Darren Shirley, Head of the Acceleration Unit, said: “I am delighted to take on this important new role, bringing a fresh perspective and external advice to accelerate the delivery of key infrastructure projects and programmes. The breadth and depth of expertise in my new team will stand us in a good stead as we look to deliver the schemes that will help the country to rebuild faster through decarbonising the transport system and levelling up Britain as we emerge from the coronavirus crisis.”

The Acceleration Unit will also engage experts with significant experience in delivering infrastructure projects, including Highways England’s Director of Complex Infrastructure projects, Chris Taylor, who oversaw the construction of the £1.5 billion A14 scheme – which was not only delivered on budget but eight months ahead of schedule – and Mark Reynolds of MACE, who oversaw the construction of the COVID-19 Nightingale hospital in East London in nine days.

The creation of the team follows the establishment of a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council, dedicated to swiftly levelling up infrastructure across the North of England’s towns and cities, forming a direct link between Westminster and local leaders.

The Transport Secretary also unveiled a host of further rail investments, including:

  • A £1.1 million investment for Network Rail to develop short-term plans to relieve overcrowding at London Liverpool Street station
  • Funding to complete the £6.4 million scheme to build a new second footbridge serving all four platforms at St Albans City station, easing congestion and addressing safety issues at an increasingly busy station – work is due to start in early 2021 and is set to be complete by January 2022
  • £4 million to develop the design phase for gauge enhancement and track improvements for freight trains on Great Western, Midland Main Lines and at Darlington – which will be delivered by October 2020 – to allow longer intermodal freight trains to operate from Teesport to Yorkshire
  • £9.74 million for signalling and infrastructure enhancements delivered on the Wessex route at Twickenham, Bracknell and Virginia Water as part of the Feltham and Wokingham Signalling Renewal Programme – this will help improve the reliability and flexibility of services, starting from Easter 2021.

Industry responses

Rail Delivery Group

Responding to the UK government’s announcement of a new Acceleration Unit for transport infrastructure, Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations and Regions for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the rail industry, said: “Putting investment in rail on the fast track is good news for communities and businesses across Britain. Rail companies will continue to work together to deliver vital improvements to make our railway greener and support job creation.”

Midlands Connect

Maria Machancoses, Director of Midlands Connect said: “It’s encouraging to see government tackling the challenges of large-scale infrastructure delivery head on. If it’s to be truly successful, the new Acceleration Unit must empower transport bodies to develop large schemes more quickly, moving them from concept, to evidence gathering and design, ensuring they are ‘shovel ready’ faster.”

She added: “Only when funding, political will and expertise go hand in hand can we enact the change we need to deliver an infrastructure revolution and, with it, projects like High Speed Two (HS2) and Midlands Engine Rail. The development of a strong pipeline of schemes will be ever more important as the UK looks to reboot its economy following the effects of COVID-19. We look forward to engaging with the Department for Transport in making this happen.”