MEMBERS OF Transport for the North formally launched their Strategic Transport Plan at the organisation’s inaugural conference in Sheffield on 11 February. The £70 billion investment plan includes proposals for the new Northern Powerhouse Rail line (NPR) which would link the North’s six main cities and Manchester Airport, as well as other significant economic centres, and a Long Term Rail Strategy that calls for investment in lines, stations, services and franchises in order to deliver greater connectivity, capacity and cost-effectiveness.

On behalf of the Government Rail Minister Andrew Jones welcomed the 30-year Strategic Transport Plan, and pointed to schemes already underway such as tram-train, replacement of the Tyne and Wear Metro fleet and partial electrification of the Midland main line as positive steps, although his suggestion that the ‘biggest upgrade of the Midland main line since it was completed in 1870’ would see ‘brand new Intercity Express Trains’ took guests by surprise as there are currently no plans for new trains for the route, let alone a particular product.

Mr Jones reiterated his commitment to HS2 (p93, last month) before adding his support to the NPR project, commenting ‘We should also recognise that HS2 won’t solve everything, it can’t tackle the east-west links that we need so badly. That is why we also need the flagship scheme that is Northern Powerhouse Rail. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a huge leap in unlocking the full potential of the North.’

Cross-party support for TfN’s vision came from Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Andy McDonald, who commented ‘It is imperative that the decade from 2020 is one that sees a transformation in the entire transport system across the north of England and its rail services in particular. We want to see the Northern rail network on an equal footing with the south and Labour will prioritise Northern connectivity in our approach to improvements and enhancements. The ongoing gulf between transport spending in the north and south is scandalous.’ TfN Strategic Rail Director David Hoggarth told the conference that whilst rail in the north currently has a 4% mode share for journeys to work, demand has increased threefold over the last 20 years. He commented ‘The last six months have proved that all the future thinking means nothing if people can’t get to work or on leisure journeys. Last May the system broke big style and the industry lost the trust of the passengers and broke the promise of the timetable.’