Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill comments on why this £96 billion investment is a ‘cornerstone’ for UK rail.
Just under a year ago, we were waiting for the then prime minister to arrive at the press event to launch the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands.
We said to ourselves then that the launch of the IRP needed to enable three things.
1. We need to get on with the things we know are desperately needed
We need to get on, now, with the things we know make sense and are desperately needed.
Many investment decisions had been held back pending the publication of the IRP, and these now need to be released.
The IRP is a huge commitment with lots of ambition.
But the smaller interventions, such as electrification between Bradford and Leeds, cannot be held back pending conclusion on the big questions, such as getting HS2 trains into Leeds.
The young people of Bradford cannot wait for a tunnel to Manchester for their travel connections, better jobs, and the growth they create to be improved.
2. Railways enable jobs, housing and economic growth
The IRP lists several infrastructure interventions to enable better journey times.
Railways are not just about infrastructure, railways are about enabling jobs, housing, and economic growth.
These infrastructure interventions need to be turned into service outcomes so we can understand what this really means for the passengers, communities, and local economies.
This will allow us to examine the benefits of the inevitable trade-off decisions that will have to be made as funding becomes available and project estimates firm up.
3. Decision-making needs to be closer to those it affects
Whether it’s the journey time, stopping pattern, or disruption caused by infrastructure delivery, these are decisions best made by those it affects.
That said, this would require a level of maturity and realisation that trade-offs will be required.
It’s easy to ask for everything. It’s much harder to make trade-off choices.
The Integrated Rail Plan is a ‘cornerstone’ of proposals
An integrated investment plan could enable much of the above – it can set out the vision and direction.
Importantly, this plan needs to focus on the service outcomes and be adaptable to the finding levels that are made available.
This can keep the vision alive while ensuring that we get on with the things now that makes sense and are urgently needed such as providing West Yorkshire with an electrified network.
Such an integrated plan, presented to the UK government for approval, is a cornerstone of the proposals set out in Keith Williams’ reform white paper. Work to create one is already underway.
The Transpennine Upgrade
Finally, when we commit, we know we can do great things. For instance:
- The Transpennine Upgrade is up and running with the lines on its east and west extremities being electrified now.
- We’re helping build new stations in West Yorkshire with both public and private money.
- Middlesborough and Darlington stations are being transformed.
- We’re continuing with the electrification of the Midland Mainline currently progressing up to Leicester.
The key here is that when we commit, we can make it happen.
Hesitation in the guise of optioneering and reduced timescales for approvals are what holds us back.
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