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Infrastructure blog

Insights into Northern Powerhouse Rail

17 March 2020

ICE’s latest insights paper introduces Northern Powerhouse Rail and examines the potential impacts of the programme.

Insights into Northern Powerhouse Rail
Northern Powerhouse Rail is a major rail programme designed to unlock the economic potential of the North. Image credit: Shutterstock

Northern Powerhouse Rail has been positioned as a solution to the Government’s ambition to ‘level up the North’. But while Northern Powerhouse Rail is widely discussed, for many it is unclear what it would actually entail.

Rather than a single project, Northern Powerhouse Rail is a major rail programme designed to unlock the economic potential of the North. The programme defines a proposed rail network for the North of England that improves connectivity between major economic centres and transport hubs throughout the North East, North West and Yorkshire. It consists of six routes between major cities:

  • Liverpool to Manchester
  • Manchester to Sheffield
  • Manchester to Leeds
  • Leeds to Newcastle
  • Leeds to Hull
  • Sheffield to Hull

Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals feature new, significantly upgraded and electrified rail lines to increase the capacity, speed and resilience of the North’s rail network.

Integrating HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail

For Transport for the North, the proponent of programme, both Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 are integral to a future Northern rail network and should be planned as a programme of works. With the Government’s recent decision to proceed with HS2 in full, this ambition has become more likely. The Government has committed to plan the two initiatives in an integrated manner as part of High Speed North.

ICE has previously published an insights paper outlining the potential benefits of HS2, delivery challenges and the alternative approaches to delivering improvements to the UK’s railways.

Enhancing rail connectivity and capacity in the North

According to Transport for the North, Northern Powerhouse Rail has the potential to significantly improve journey times between major centres. For example, the journey time between Manchester and Leeds could be cut from 46 minutes to 25 minutes, whilst Leeds to Newcastle could go from 88 minutes to 58 minutes.

By 2050, Northern Powerhouse Rail could bring more than 10 million people within 90 minutes of key cities in the North, against just 2 million today. The programme could also increase the number of seats between key Northern cities by up to 35,000 per hour. This could help to address crowding, punctuality and reliability issues on rail across the North, ensuring future growth in demand could be met sustainably.

Boosting economic growth and productivity

So, what are the economic benefits of improved rail capacity and connectivity in the north? Well according to Transport for the North, a primary objective for Northern Powerhouse Rail is to boost business growth and close the north-south gap in productivity.

According to their analysis, the rail programme could support an increase in productivity of up to 2% by better connecting the North and result in Gross Value Added benefits of up to £3.4 billion per year. Through expanded labour markets, improved business to business connectivity, and greater access to ports and airports, Northern Powerhouse Rail could facilitate transformational economic growth.

For more information about what ICE thinks should be in the National Infrastructure Strategy see our short policy paper.

Read the full NPR Insights paper

  • Alex Hardy, policy manager at ICE