THE NATIONAL Infrastructure Commission has raised concern about slow progress with both Transport for the North’s Northern Powerhouse Rail programme and London’s proposed Crossrail 2 line.

In its annual monitoring report, it notes Government has made good progress with some of the more straightforward recommendations it has made. The Commission has made 45 recommendations in its six studies so far, of which 42 were accepted by Government and 10 have been closed following completion. The NIC highlights progress with the East West Rail scheme among programmes which have mobilised, although raises concern about integration between the planning of new housing and transport schemes in the Oxford to Cambridge corridor.

Regarding Northern Powerhouse Rail, TfN’s proposed inter-city network across the region, the NIC says while a Strategic Outline Business Case has been developed there are still no clear preferred solutions for a number of areas, noting such decisions cannot be reached until there is a clear funding envelope for the scheme. It calls for Government to establish the available funding as part of its long-term National Infrastructure Strategy and for TfN to then ‘without delay’ move towards confirming the preferred route and station options as early as possible in 2020, including the preferred Leeds to Manchester route and the structure of Manchester Piccadilly station. It also seeks progress in the shorter-term with the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade of the existing line.


Similar caution is expressed at the slow progress on Crossrail 2, the proposed new north east to south west line across London, with the Commission calling for a firm timetable and funding proposal to form part of the Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy and be published by the autumn.

It says the decision to consider the case for Crossrail 2 at the spending review means even the extended timetable for the scheme may now be missed, with concern that further delays will make laying a hybrid bill in this Parliament challenging, potentially pushing back completion beyond the early- to mid-2030s. The NIC suggests that while the cost overrun and delay on Crossrail 1 have implications for Transport for London’s financial position, they do not affect the overall case for Crossrail 2.

One of the NIC’s other reports concerns 5G connectivity, and it notes the decision to cancel an initiative to trial new infrastructure for high capacity mobile connections on the trans-Pennine route due to higher than forecast costs. The Commission calls for the Government to set out its next steps on mobile connectivity for rail, establishing a preferred model for the deployment of trackside infrastructure and providing clarity for suppliers. Such infrastructure will need to be in place on main rail routes by 2025 at the latest if delivery is to take place on a timescale consistent with the wider deployment of 5G networks, the Commission says.