Rail expansion essential to help UK cities achieve economic and social goals

Posted: 20 June 2018 | | No comments yet

If UK cities are to continue improving the social, environmental and economic aspects within their communities, rail expansion is a vital requirement…


Significant rail expansion is the “only viable option” to help UK cities achieve their ambitions on economic growth, housing demands, road traffic and air quality, claims Urban Transport Group’s new report.

The Urban Transport Group, sets out the vision for the future of rail travel in cities. The new report, ‘Rail Cities UK – Our vision for their future’, highlights how urban rail has been “one of the big transport success stories of recent times”, with patronage levels soaring.

For example, over the last decade, rail passenger numbers have grown by 184 per cent at St Helens Central station, by 149 per cent at Birmingham New Street and by 96 per cent at Bradford Interchange.

However, the report argues that current investment in urban rail “falls short” in comparison to what is required for cities to be able to meet their wider economic, environmental and social goals.

The report has created a five point vision for 21st Century rail cities based on:

  1. Higher density and more reliable rail services, with a greater market share of city centre commuting and more cross city routes
  2. The use of new technologies which are able to switch from rail lines onto streets when they reach city centres
  3. Rail networks which are integrated with wider public transport and support housing needs and local economic development
  4. Stations which act as hubs for business, housing and community purposes
  5. Interconnected rail networks which emulate those of comparative city regions in countries such as Germany.

Ben Still, Managing Director at West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Urban Transport Group’s lead Board Member for rail, said: “Rail is absolutely vital for creating city regions which are economically dynamic, sustainable, meet housing needs and are ultimately rewarding places for people to live, work and spend time in. Only by expanding rail networks will we be able to get more people into the denser, less congested urban centres whilst unlocking more opportunities for housing development.

“All our areas have plans for transforming and expanding their urban rail networks but this will require consistent long-term funding and for the rail industry to up its game in delivering the projects on time and on budget. Although we are seeing significant investment in renewing and improving urban rail it falls short of what is needed for a long-term vision for rail cities. At the same time the proven benefits that devolution brings are not being extended rapidly enough. We need a step change in our urban rail ambitions if we are to create cities that are truly fit for the future.”

The report says that this future vision for rail can only be achieved if five key challenges are addressed:

  1. An appraisal methodology and decision making process that better recognises the benefits of urban rail investment
  2. Improving the rail industry’s capability and capacity to deliver schemes efficiently and at reasonable cost
  3. Returning to a national rail planning process based on long term rail expansion
  4. Greater coordination of the planning and delivery of transport, local economic development and housing
  5. Deepening and widening the process of devolution of rail powers to bring about greater integration of urban rail networks with other local public transport services.

Jonathan Bray, Director of the Urban Transport Group, added: “It is time for a new settlement on rail devolution. The Government should fully recognise the reality – and the benefits – of a devolving railway within a devolving UK by completing devolution in key regions and giving more power over stations where authorities have the ambition and capacity to take on such power.”

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