Published on 28th February 2012
Major Northern Cities and Politicians combine with Network Rail to campaign for improved rail services across the north of England.
Network Rail wants to build on the successes of franchises like TransPennine Express by expanding the capacity of various routes in the Lancashire and Yorkshire areas.
The plan, known as the “Northern Hub”, has been under development for several years now and has received the backing of such influential players as Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle Councils plus Transport for Greater Manchester. Also taking part in backing the plan are the Members of Parliament who represent constituencies along the route.
In a joint letter, the five cities’ councils will press the Chancellor George Osbourne for around £560m which will likely be supplementary to the amount he has already pledged for the improvement of Regional Railways. The Ordsall Chord in Manchester for example is already funded outside the new pledge for £560 Million.
On the TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester, there would be a fourth track re-added at Dewsbury, along with four tracking in the Standedge Tunnels area, so as to allow the looping of slower trains. This would be in anticipation of a 10 minute interval TransPennine service between Leeds and Manchester, against the current 15 minutely service.
Curiously, there is no mention of the electrification of this route, contrary to popular belief that it would be required. The journey time on this rather spectacular route would also be expected to reduce by as much as 10 minutes.
Between Sheffield and Manchester, via both Marple and Stockport, there would be improvements to line speed, as well as loops installed along the line for the increasing freight from the Peak Forest and Earles Sidings areas. Similar line speed improvements are planned between Bradford and Manchester via Halifax and Rochdale, between Stalybridge and Manchester Victoria, between Salford and Preston via Chorley, and between Chester and Liverpool via Warrington and Earlestown.
Electrification is already going ahead using the 25kV overhead system between both Manchester Victoria / Piccadilly and Wigan North Western via Atherton for the new Class 350 “Desiro” units, which will enter service shortly for TransPennine Express.
The Northern Hub scheme also includes electrification of the line from the two Manchester stations to Liverpool Lime Street via Newton le Willows and Blackpool. This would be by way of Bolton and Chorley and is likely to be a key area for the soon-to-be-released Class 319 units to be re-allocated to.
The line from Leeds to Manchester Victoria via Bradford and Rochdale is already well patronised, particularly since the re-cast of the timetable by Northern Rail. It is expected that greater capacity will be needed, so headway improvements could see more services between these cities on this route. It may also open up better competition, as TransPennine Express is currently the only viable option for business users on such a journey.
As part of the Orsall Chord, it may become the case that services across the route through Rochdale may run thence to Piccadilly and Manchester Airport, potentially removing the need for a tram journey across Manchester, and onward train journey. What must however be addressed is the severe constraints between Oxford Road and Piccadilly if this scheme is to succeed.
The line between Liverpool and Manchester is notoriously poor, with TransPennine Express again offering the only service with high quality rolling stock. As part of the Northern Hub scheme, a half hourly express service would be offered with electric rolling stock between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool Lime Street via Newton le Willows. There would also be better services on the line via Warrington Central and Liverpool South Parkway. The journey times too could be decreased by as much as 15 minutes. The line via Newton le Willows will be electrified by 2013.
It is anticipated that for the £560 Million investment, there could be as much as £4.2 Billion gained in economic benefits. If this proves correct, everybody wins with a financial ratio of 7.5 to 1, an unusually high return.
Other research suggests 80% of people would use such improved services, many new to rail on a commuting basis while 83% back the plan. The Northern Hub proposal would allow as many as 700 extra trains to run each day – a somewhat exceptional increase, and definitely one which cities such as Manchester would appreciate.
Having travelled on these lines, and having seen the level of crowding in the area, it is obvious that improvements are required as soon as possible
The proposals put forward by Network Rail seem to cover all aspects and rolling stock improvements are needed on the Caldervale line through Rochdale, as the current two car services are nowhere near adequate. Class 185 units, such as those seen at First TransPennine Express, at a potentially longer four car formation, would be very suitable for the line.
The TransPennine route via Huddersfield, electrification, between Manchester and Leeds as well as to York is expected. This would allow services from Newcastle and York to Manchester Airport to be formed of electric multiple units. Five car Class 360 units, such as those seen at Heathrow Connect would be very well suited to this route, albeit with First Class additions.
Should Class 319 units be used between Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool, they would need to undergo refurbishment similar to the Connex Express scheme. The Class 319/2 units, with their 2+2 seating, some tables and comfortable interior, as well as four car length, will be well suited to the line between Liverpool and Manchester at least, whether on limited or all station services.
In short, I believe that the many parties involved are working towards a “winner”, to benefit welcome economic growth across the region.