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Transport plan reveals Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals

Manchester metro

Transport for the North (TfN) has launched a draft 30-year £70bn Strategic Transport Plan and outlined proposals for improved east to west connectivity.

TfN’s remit covers “east to west, inter-urban connectivity” rather than public transport within cities, which is the responsibility of the city region.  The plan is expected to cost £2bn to £2.3bn a year, from 2020 to 2050, which is an additional investment of £700M to £900M annually. 

Its flagship project is Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), sometimes referred to as ‘Crossrail for the North’, a network across the Pennines stretching from Liverpool to Hull. 

The draft plan outlines proposals for a new line between Liverpool and the HS2 Manchester spur via Warrington, increased capacity at Manchester Piccadilly for eight through trains per hour, a new line connecting Manchester and Leeds via Bradford, upgrades to the Hope Valley line between Sheffield and Manchester via Stockport, upgrades to the East Coast mainline and upgrades to the line from Leeds to Hull via Selby and Sheffield to Hull via Doncaster. 

The network is reliant on HS2 Phase 2b, TfN’s head of economic advice Tim Foster said, so will not be up and running until HS2 is completed which is not expected until the early 2030’s.

Foster said: “HS2 is fundamental to the NPR network, there’s no point NPR replicating or duplicating a lot of the HS2 infrastructure between Sheffield and Leeds, for example.”

A strategic outline business case for the scheme will be completed by the end of this year. Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan welcomed the proposals but said TfN needs “to develop the business case … so that we can start getting spades in the ground” in order for the economic benefits to be felt as soon as possible. 

The other project that has attracted publicity is the trans-Pennine tunnel, which is designed to address the road connectivity issues between Sheffield and Manchester. The original plan for a long single tunnel under the Peak District was recently scrapped in favour of a cheaper, shorter alternative alongside improvements to the local road network.

Foster said: “We recognise that a full tunnel solution is almost certainly poor value for money and probably isn’t the right solution.”

“We think we’re pretty close to a better solution using a partially tunnelled route that delivers the transport solutions we’re looking for,” he added, “Now we need to make the case [to the government] for the alternative option, and that’s underway.”

The Government will have to consider TfN’s recommendations after it becomes a statutory body in April, but it does not have the powers to borrow money or raise revenue. A “substantial” part of funding is expected to come from central government, the plan said, and TfN will explore “significant opportunities” to take advantage of private finance.

Foster said that TfN has explored how the North could pay for the infrastructure but said, “Where we do need to find local solutions [it is important] that we’re not then undermining the economic growth that TfN is trying to facilitate through transport by taking money out of local areas.” 

Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “If the government is to tackle the poor transport infrastructure, inadequate digital connectivity, and skills shortages that are shackling the potential economic power of the North of England, it must take a long-term strategic approach.

“Transport for the North’s strategic plan sets out such a vision by calling for sustained, prioritised investment in the region’s railways and roads over a thirty-year period that will transform the economy by improving the way both people and goods travel around the North of England.”

 

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