Northern England leaders call for vital work to reduce rail congestion
Prior to Northern operating under new ownership, leaders across the North of England are calling for stronger commitments to rail infrastructure developments.
Prior to the UK’s Northern Rail franchise operating under new ownership from the end of February 2020, significant leaders across Northern England are calling for stronger commitments to be made for making significant progress in combating rail congestion hotspots across the North.
Under the Operator of Last Resort, Northern Trains Ltd – a public holding company – are set to manage Northern Rail from 1 March 2020. The company will address performance and reliability issues which have plagued Northern Rail passenger services since 2018.
However, despite levelling-up being an agreed national priority, Northern leaders believe the new operator will struggle to deliver promised enhancements to services unless vital work to improve capacity on the corridor is given full priority. The doubts are based upon Network Rail infrastructure projects, such as the Castlefield corridor, that are yet to be delivered.
Speaking out in collaboration to emphasise the need for work on the corridor to be signed off as a matter of urgency due to the impact it is having on journeys across the North, Northern leaders are stressing how rail services in the North have been severely affected by decades of under-investment, while spending on London’s Thameslink, another cross-city corridor, shows railways can be made fit for purpose if the investment commitment is made.
Northern leaders’ statements
Transport for the North
Strategic Rail Director for Transport for the North, David Hoggarth, said: “Every day the ripple effect from congestion in this corridor is felt across the North by tens of thousands of commuters. The network simply can’t cope with the demand being put on it. The fact is, a scheme designed to provide extra capacity on this corridor was planned for delivery between 2014 and 2019, but it has still not been delivered. If we are to truly address the issue of levelling-up, then we need the same level of commitment that was given to Thameslink to be given to the Castlefield corridor here in the North.”
David added: “The effects of this unreliability spread out, not just across the greater Manchester area, but across the whole of the North of England with services being delayed locally and then exporting that delay as far afield as Newcastle, Teesside, North and West Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales. Without resolving these issues, it will not be possible to deliver a level of performance across the North of England that we believe is acceptable to the public.”
Mayor of Greater Manchester
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “Thousands of passengers are impacted every day by delayed trains crawling through central Manchester. This has a knock-on effect for the whole of the North, as services get delayed and platforms get overcrowded. Improving capacity on the Castlefield corridor in Manchester is essential if we are going to fix the railways in the North. But, frustratingly, Network Rail and ministers continue to put it off and drag their feet.”
He continued: “Building two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly has been reviewed multiple times by Network Rail, and each review has concluded that the work must be carried out. If the Prime Minister wants an example of a “shovel-ready” project that will bring benefits to the entire North of England, then he should commit to investing in the Castlefield corridor in the forthcoming Budget. It is time government gave passengers in the North the same level of commitment they have given passengers in London.”
Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority
Leader of Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Lead, Councillor Judith Blake, said: “I am fully supportive of the need to invest in the Castlefield corridor, which is causing significant congestion across the North of England’s rail network, including for services in West Yorkshire. The disruption faced by rail passengers in the North is, in part, a consequence of a failure to invest in rail infrastructure improvements. Decades of under-investment has left the North of England without the modern, reliable transport network, which is needed if we are to achieve our economic ambitions and raise living standards for all our communities.”
Judith continued, stressing the multitude of developments required for the future development of rail: “We will continue to call on the government to also deliver improvements that increase capacity in Leeds station, as well as deliver HS2 in full and integrated with Northern Powerhouse Rail with a station in Bradford city centre. We are also calling for an upgraded trans-Pennine route, which will help address the poor transport links between towns and cities in the North and Midlands. It is vital that all these projects are developed and delivered in full as part of an integrated and coordinated plan.”
Cheshire West and Chester Council
Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council said: “The inadequate infrastructure along the Castlefield corridor in central Manchester, together with the related long outstanding franchise commitments, are a major constraint to prosperity in Cheshire West and the wider West and Wales area. Journeys between North Wales, Cheshire West and the large urban area of Manchester are important to everyday lives and, therefore, improved service frequency and faster journey times are essential to our continued growth and levelling-up. Significant investments are urgently required here to help re-balance the economy of the UK and to strengthen the union.”
Director of Transport Focus – the UK’s independent transport watchdog – David Sidebottom, said: “Passengers tell us that their priority is a rail service they can rely on. More than anything else they need to get to work, home or further afield in a timely and reliable way. We want to hear when this long-promised improvement will get back on track. Government must now provide a plan, including this much-needed investment in infrastructure, to improve performance and tackle overcrowding to rebuild trust amongst passengers.”