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What is the thinking behind Northern powerhouse rail?

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According to Transport for the North’s Northern powerhouse rail factsheet

[TfN (undated)]

Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) is a major strategic rail programme, designed to
transform the northern economy and meet the needs of people and business. It will transform connectivity between the key economic centres of the North. The programme promises radical changes in service patterns, and target journey times. By delivering NPR more than 40% of businesses identified as having the North’s prime capabilities would be within 90 minutes rail travel of four or more of the North’s largest economic centres, compared with only 12% today.

Currently fewer than 10,000 people in the North can access four or more of the North’s largest economic centres within an hour. This would rise to 1.3 million once NPR is delivered. NPR would transform the job market, giving businesses access to skilled workers in larger labour markets and offer individuals the opportunity for flexible career development and progression, all within the North.

Transport for the North, Northern powerhouse rail factsheet, undated

However, TfN’s January 2018 draft Strategic Transport Plan stated that “the North is home to 16 million people”.

It is entirely unclear why it would be worth spending billions of pounds, just so that 8 per cent of the population of “the North” could “access four or more of the North’s largest economic centres within an hour”.

John Armitt, of the National Infrastructure Commission, described TfN’s strategic plan as a ‘major step forward’.

John Armitt described the TfN strategic plan as a major step forward

Which says quite a lot about John Armitt.


Written by beleben

January 18, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Cahsr vastly underestimated the difficulties

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The 77% increase above the original estimate for the Central Valley section of California High Speed Rail suggests the rail authority and its consultants have vastly underestimated the difficulties of buying land, obtaining environmental approvals, navigating through complex litigation and much else, the Los Angeles Times reported.

[California bullet train cost surges by $2.8 billion: ‘Worst-case scenario has happened’, Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2018]

Outside critics saw the rail authority’s defense of lower cost estimates as part of an effort to politically protect the project.

Written by beleben

January 17, 2018 at 2:49 pm

Treasury analysis of English regional transport expenditure

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According to the Department for Transport, in 2015 – 2016, total public sector expenditure per capita on transport was higher in north-west England than in south-east England.

DfT, total public sector expenditure per capita, English regions, 2015-2016

Written by beleben

January 17, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Massive expenditure for very little return

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On 15 July 2015 the Beleben blog stated that “The HS2 stage two concept features dead-end stations in Manchester (new Piccadilly) and Leeds (New Lane), and attempts to adapt for ‘Northern connectivity’ are likely to involve significant additional expenditure for limited returns”.

Little surprise then, to find the proposals for Northern powerhouse rail in Transport for the North’s January 2018 strategic transport plan draft (which consider HS2 to be “a central part of the rail proposition for the North”) involve massive expenditure for very little return.

Northern powerhouse rail, Jan 2018 iteration, draft proposals for Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield

Consider, for example, the TfN proposal for a new-build line from HS2 into Liverpool.


Emerging analysis shows that a service from Liverpool to Manchester Piccadilly, via Warrington and Manchester Airport, could take around 28 minutes, compared to the current fastest service of 50 minutes between Manchester Piccadilly and Liverpool.

The fastest train service between Manchester and Liverpool is currently about 32 minutes, on the Chat Moss route. As the Beleben blog has pointed out, there is not going to be an economic case for spending ~£3 billion (~£4 billion, for captive 400-metre trains) on a new railway into Liverpool, to save 4 minutes on a journey to Manchester. It’s just lunacy.

Official map of proposed HS2 railway in the Manchester and Warrington area

twitter @MichaelDugher, 'Whilst we obsess in Britain about transport “plans” and expensive new lines, most people would just settle for some more trains, more carriages and a few longer platforms'

twitter @DaveHarrisonBBC, John Prescott bloody fraud

Written by beleben

January 16, 2018 at 12:58 pm

The emerging vision of the daft

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The folly of planning Northern rail links around HS2 is exposed in Transport for the North’s 98-page “Strategic Transport Plan” draft for public consultation, which is being launched today (16 January 2018).

The draft, which is supposed to cover both road and rail, is very short on detail, numbers, and evidence. (Unless statements like “the North is home to 16 million people and 7.2 million jobs”, count as ‘evidence’.)

'Vision' for Northern powerhouse rail (in 2016)

Many of the target journey times and frequencies of the original ‘vision’ (above) seem to have been ‘forgotten’ in the January 2018 iteration of ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’. But, as before, NPR is a dreadful project, which would do almost nothing for everyday transport in the north.

[TfN, Strategic Transport Plan Draft for public consultation, 16 Jan 2018]

The emerging vision for the Northern Powerhouse Rail network includes:

• A new line between Liverpool and the HS2 Manchester Spur via Warrington

• Capacity at Piccadilly for around eight through services per hour

• A new Trans Pennine rail line that connects Manchester and Leeds via Bradford

• Significant upgrades along the corridor of the existing Hope Valley line between Sheffield and Manchester via Stockport

• Leeds to Sheffield delivered through HS2 Phase 2B and upgrading the route from Sheffield

• Leeds to Newcastle via HS2 junction and upgrades to the East Coast Mainline

• Significant upgrades to existing line from Leeds to Hull (via Selby) and Sheffield to Hull (via Doncaster) Alternative concepts will continue to be assessed between Liverpool – Manchester, Manchester – Sheffield, and Manchester – Leeds as part of developing a Strategic Outline Business Case for the programme.

TfN are also exploring plans for shorter term improvements along the Hope Valley corridor between Sheffield and Manchester as a joint priority for both TfN and the Sheffield City Region, and whether transformational journey times could be realised along the existing rail corridor.

If the evidence demonstrates that significant upgrades to the Hope Valley corridor do not look promising in terms of moving towards the transformational outputs, TfN will consider the case for and further assessment of a new line between Manchester and Sheffield. The business case for the elements of this vision require the evidence base to be worked up and completed, and therefore decisions as to the right proposals to implement will depend on further work to establish costs and benefits of these options.

TfN wants to ensure that Northern Powerhouse Rail is fully integrated into the planning of HS2 Phase 2B, to ensure both maximum value for money and that Northern Powerhouse Rail can be developed without delay.

To enable the possibility for Northern Powerhouse Rail services to make use of HS2 infrastructure, it is necessary to incorporate passive provision in the HS2 Phase 2B Hybrid Bill, with funding announced by the Chancellor in October 2017 intended to future proof HS2 for delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail connectivity.

A series of touchpoints between Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 Phase 2B have been identified across the Eastern (Sheffield to Leeds) and Western (Liverpool to Manchester) corridors, as well as at Manchester Piccadilly.

TfN 'emerging vision for Northern powerhouse rail network', 16 Jan 2018 (Contains Ordnance Survey data
© Crown copyright and database right 2017)

Northern powerhouse transport let down, ITV, August 2017

Written by beleben

January 16, 2018 at 11:16 am

Fog on the East Coast

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The partnership of Stagecoach and Virgin did agree to pay £3.3 billion to the Government over the eight year [intercity East Coast franchise], which was originally due to run until 2023. However that bid was based on a number of key assumptions and a promise of a huge upgrade of the infrastructure by Network Rail that would have improved the reliability of the track and allowed [Virgin Trains East Coast] to run more trains and carry many more passengers than [it does] today (wrote Richard Branson in a blogpost called ‘Clarity on Virgin Trains East Coast media reporting’).

VTEC's David Horne, Brian Souter, Richard Branson, Karen Boswell at the launch of the 'Azuma' train (picture: VTEC)

[RB blog, 5 Jan 2018:] The considerable delays to this upgrade, to new trains, as well as poor track reliability will cost us significant lost revenue (amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds) and torpedoed the assumptions of our original bid. As the facts became clear about these issues – (as well as a drop in Britain’s GDP growth) – a discussion with Government had to take place and a pragmatic solution was needed to keep delivering improvements and investment in the line.

Unfortunately, the blogpost did not

  • set out what the ‘key assumptions’ were, or
  • detail the ‘promise’ of a ‘huge upgrade of the infrastructure’.

Anyone expecting to find out this information from the Intercity East Coast rail franchise agreement, or ‘Rail’ magazine, is likely to be disappointed.

twitter, @elliotttimes, status_950838743518375936

@julesattard, twitter, 'Daily Mail Virgin Trains ban to distract twittersphere'

Written by beleben

January 10, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

Banned at St Pancras

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Andrew Adonis was banned from doing an interview with Owen Jones at St Pancras station today, so he was looking for a central London rail venue that doesn’t need Network Rail’s permission.

@twitter, @Andrew_Adonis 'banned from doing an interview with Owen Jones at St Pancras station'

Why he would require “Network Rail’s permission” to an interview there, is unclear, however. Because St Pancras is (officially) managed by HS1 Ltd, not Network Rail.

twitter, @Andrew_Adonis, 'producer capture'


Written by beleben

January 9, 2018 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways