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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”.


Written by beleben

January 18, 2018 at 12:57 pm

The no-evidence base for Northern Powerhouse Rail

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The 'vision' for Northern Powerhouse Rail

According to the ‘Initial Integrated Rail Report, Strategic Transport Plan Evidence Base‘, the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme ‘has been developed with a definitive remit to ultimately deliver the following:’

[Initial Integrated Rail Report, Jacobs and SDG, June 2017]

* The delivery of new and substantially upgraded rail corridors across the North. To release capacity on the existing rail network, which in turn could allow it to be used differently, e.g. for new service patterns, additional local trains or to accommodate more freight traffic;

* To be fully integrated, to allow the benefits of faster journeys to Northern cities to be spread to those places not directly served by new and upgraded routes by through running. NPR stations will become integrated transport hubs, with co-ordinated rail services which also offer convenient connections to local transport services;

* To significantly upgrade hub stations, with more platforms and better facilities for all passengers;

* To mirror HS2 in the integration of NPR within long terms land use planning
considerations around station hubs;

* To drive innovation in rail through the creation of a critical mass for investment in new smart ticketing and information systems which can be used by all rail operators.

Although the ‘Evidence Base’ runs to 83 pages, there is no actual evidence in it which supports the ‘vision‘ for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The topology is questionable, and the target frequencies, and target journey times (e.g. ‘Sheffield to Manchester in 30 minutes’) seem to be round numbers plucked from the air. Evidence about corridor demand, capacity utilisation on the existing rail lines, etc, is conspicuous by its absence.

In its current form, ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ is a dreadful project which would do almost nothing for everyday transport in the north.

Commuting patterns into Greater Manchester (Paul Swinney, using 2011 Census data)

Commuting patterns into Greater Manchester (Paul Swinney, using 2011 Census data)

Written by beleben

October 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

Northern rail delusions

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According to the publicity for today’s Bauer ‘National Rail Conference’ – titled “The North: Leading The Way” – a world class rail service has been promised to the north of England.

Bauer national rail conference, 1 Nov 2016, website

Opening the conference, at a hotel in Manchester, Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne reportedly claimed that “Britain runs on rails”.

Twitter, @anderberg66:  'Britain runs on rails' says Mark Carne when opening the 2016 Bauer 'national rail conference'

But to what extent does Britain – and the north of England – really ‘run on rail’?

Rail journeys in England, 2014 statistics (

Government data suggests that Great Britain, as a whole, could not realistically be said to run on rail. And in the north of England, due to a number of factors, use of rail is below the national average. In cities like Sheffield and Hull, local rail’s market share is close to zero, and there is no likelihood of that changing.

In other parts of the north, such as West Yorkshire, there would be the possibility of significantly increasing the use of local rail, but there are many obstacles. One of the issues is that trains just do not run anything like often enough, to be of much use.

Sadly, solutions to such problems are very unlikely to emerge from today’s conference in Manchester. Its focus seems to be on vanity projects, such as ‘HS3’.

Written by beleben

November 1, 2016 at 12:40 pm

The weight of water

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bbc-manc-vic-roof-damage-dementedmanc-picture-18oct2016On 18 October, two rail commuters were ‘lightly’ injured by a deluge of rainwater after a roof ‘cushion’ ruptured at Manchester’s Victoria railway station. The £20 million roof over the tracks, recently installed as part of a wider £44 million revamp of the station, consists of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) cushions supported by a steel frame.

The cause of the incident is under investigation, but the Beleben blog would posit that if rain were somehow able to enter some of the cushions from above, the weight of water build-up would cause their lower membranes to distort, and eventually give way. The ETFE film is very light (and very thin), which ‘reduces the amount of steelwork required’ (compared with glass).

Manchester Victoria station, artist's impression, showing new ETFE roof

Presumably, in wintry weather conditions, there could be a build-up of snow on the topside of the roof, which might lead to a much worse outcome.
The new roof was intended to flood the station with light, not rain

On the information available to the Beleben blog, there was no need to demolish the old roof to enhance or modernise the station.

The designers of the Manchester Victoria revamp claim they 'eliminate risk to their projects'

Written by beleben

October 19, 2016 at 8:59 am

Posted in Manchester, Planning

Throwing away the key

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At St Pancras, Arup’s botched redevelopment of the Barlow trainshed created a ‘lasting legacy’ of Midland Main Line incapacity. At Snow Hill, Birmingham city council’s approval of the Ballymore office blocks, on the eastern side of the station footprint, created a lasting legacy of disconnectivity. Now, Manchester city council intends to follow suit with its own incapacity legacy, by putting the ‘key’ Mayfield station site beyond transport use.

[The £850m redevelopment of Mayfield Depot ‘will create thousands’ of new jobs, Andrew Bardsley, Manchester Evening News, 21 Sep 2016]

A huge £850m project to redevelop the Mayfield Depot will ‘breathe new life’ into the area and create 7,500 jobs, according to developers.

London based U+I were speaking out after being confirmed as the developers behind the scheme following a tendering process.
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester council, said: “We are pleased to have appointed U+I as our development partner for Mayfield.

“It was a challenging decision given the exceptionally high calibre of candidates; however, we were particularly impressed by U+I’s innovative approach.

“The regeneration of this key gateway site, along with the proposed Network Rail Northern Hub scheme and HS2 station will ensure a lasting legacy for Manchester and over time contribute towards fulfilling the Northern Powerhouse growth agenda.

The disused Mayfield station lies south of Manchester Piccadilly (Bing maps, aerial view)

Written by beleben

September 23, 2016 at 9:30 am

Posted in HS2, Manchester

A case of too little demand

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The government has “suggested cutting the number of fast trains between Coventry and London – just to speed up journey times between the capital and Birmingham”, the Coventry Telegraph reported on 12 May.

[Coventry’s fast trains to London could be cut to improve journey times from Birmingham, Jonathan Walker and Simon Gilbert, Coventry Telegraph 12 May 2016]

Department for Transport is suggesting fewer trains should stop at “intermediate” stations to speed up journeys and cut overcrowding

Plans to chop the number of long-distance services that stop at “intermediate” stations such as Coventry and Rugby are revealed in a government consultation on the future of the West Coast Main Line.

It is another potential blow to the city which is already set to be bypassed by the controversial multi-billion pound HS2 project which will build a new high-speed line through Warwickshire to link London to Birmingham and the north of England.

[…] The document makes it clear that the focus of the service is long distance services “between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, North Wales, Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

The recommendations have been described as ‘very worrying’ by one transport organisation which says the government should be encouraging increased services to smaller stations.

So are the recommendations to cut the number of fast trains between Coventry and London (a) “just to speed up journey times between the capital and Birmingham”, or (b) “to speed up journeys and cut overcrowding”? Are there recommendations to cut the number of fast trains between Coventry and London?

Control effing the consultation document produced zero mentions for “recommend”, and just one for “overcrowd” (in the phrase “dealing with overcrowding of the concourse and train boarding issues at Euston Station”).

[DfT consultation, May 2016]

[3.17] Whilst some services are highly used in the peak (the times in the morning and evening when most people travel), or just outside of peak hours, there are times of the day where the level of service might not reflect the level of demand at stations. In these cases we are interested in understanding whether there may be opportunities to adjust the level of service at stations which might enable wider benefits to be delivered elsewhere. For example reducing the number of stops required at intermediate stations (each stop could increase the overall journey time by several minutes) could enable reductions in the overall journey time to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow or for potential new journeys to be offered.

[3.18] Whilst providing a large number of end to end journeys, ICWC services also serve a number of highly used and important connections to local services at major stations such as Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly. We know that changing trains can make travelling by rail feel complicated and increase uncertainty for some passengers; discouraging people from using the railway.

At the start of the West Coast modernisation process, the intention was to run four 8-car Pendolino services each hour from London to Birmingham, and four from London to Manchester. Today, the service is generally three 11-car trains each hour to each city.

Why is there no appetite at Virgin to request a re-cast of the route timetable to allow four trains an hour to run? The likeliest explanation is that there is insufficient demand to justify a more intensive service, so costs would increase faster than revenue.

Written by beleben

June 3, 2016 at 10:12 am

Distortion and encumbrance

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In the National Infrastructure Commission ‘High Speed North’ report, Andrew Adonis stated that “connectivity between the northern cities should be improved in stages, by kick‑starting HS3, integrating it with HS2 and planning for the redevelopment of the North’s gateway stations”.

National Infrastructure Commission-funded Arup 'fruitcake' proposals for underground loops under Manchester, to make HS3 track point the right way

The report attempted to redefine ‘HS3’ as “a vision for a network of transformed inter‑city rail links… which can meet the aspirations of the northern city regions for shorter journey times, and for increased capacity and frequencies”.

However, those “aspirations” make no sense, and the proposed HS2 infrastructure is the biggest encumbrance to improving rail connectivity in northern England.

Northern transport planning is being distorted and encumbered by the political need to integrate high speed infrastructure with regional rail. The design of the western leg of HS2 is not suited to improving northern connectivity, and there is no cost-effective way of adapting it.

A ‘high speed’ journey from Manchester to Liverpool using the HS2 infrastructure would take about the same time as a trip on the Chat Moss line. The dead-end Manchester Piccadilly HS2 station was not designed to facilitate fast Transpennine journeys, so the National Infrastructure Commission funded Arup to produce ‘fruitcake’ proposals for underground loops under Manchester, to make HS3 track ‘point the right way’.

The design of the eastern leg of HS2 is likewise unsuited to improving northern connectivity, and there is no cost-effective way of adapting it. The costs of connecting HS2 to the classic rail tracks at Meadowhall, or elsewhere, is unknown.

What is known, is that “Leeds Mk2” high speed station was designed as a dead-end, with no capacity provision for any regional or Transpennine traffic.

Written by beleben

April 7, 2016 at 9:46 am