When the government announces the biggest investment in rail ever, Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI), argues it should be welcomed.
The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) has been a long time coming, and after it was published yesterday, it was clear why. The Department for Transport has gone back to questioning all the various schemes and projects and woven them together. I know from personal experience that this was long underway, but needed energy to formalise and finalise and then a big effort to get the rest of government over the line! This is not to be underestimated.
It was a complex statement that will require much digesting. My first impression is of the scale of the announcement. £96 billion in spending is a major investment. It is the largest rail investment ever made by any government. This is very positive. The industry and its supply chain need certainty.
The next thing to jump out at me is how many changes there are to previously published plans. I have long been a vocal supporter of HS2 and was disappointed when I read the media stories that HS2 Eastern leg had been cancelled, but it turns out that the picture is more complex.
Complex because parts of the original plan will happen, for example between the East and West Midlands – but then an enhanced midland mainline would bring HS2 services to Sheffield and Leeds rather than an eastern leg of the HS2 line.
The plan is 160 pages and was only published yesterday, so the opportunity for people to read it has been very limited. I will read it in detail over this weekend.
The IRP has many benefits for the north of England
From what we can see already, the plans deliver a range of benefits for the North – benefits in terms of new lines, increased capacity and improved journey times.
In fact, the outputs are similar to the outputs of the previous plans but there are more benefits. What we seem to be seeing is improved north-south journey times – although not as great an improvement as we would have seen with the HS2 eastern leg – alongside radically improved east-west services in the North and very good progress in the Midlands.
There will be investment for both the existing transpennine line and the construction of a new fast line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire. So for us Yorkies, we will receive a much-enhanced service. Talking to colleagues over the past couple of years, people were unsure about why two projects across the Pennines were necessary. I had a bit of work explaining they did different jobs.
I noted also the east coast mainline will receive investment to deliver much improved journey times to Leeds and York. A quick read of the plan suggests a Leeds-London time saving of 20 minutes. Welcome news for a regular user of that service.
I am also most interested in the resilience of the line, so am looking to see the existing electrification made more robust. The industry has much to do on electrification cost and resilience.
Rail freight has sometimes been a second-tier priority for the railways, but the new transpennine plan has improved clearances. That may not sound much, but bigger containers will be able to use the route. It is something the rail freight industry has long called for and will take thousands of HGVs off the M62. The industry really lobbied hard for this, and I was pleased to see it come good.
There has been much discussion in the House of Commons on this statement. Colleagues were keen to promote schemes that added capacity and connectivity to their constituencies. Groups had formed, both for and against proposals. Ministers, for many months, have made themselves very available to hear colleague ideas and concerns. Most of my colleagues on my side of the House have been pleased by the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), in some cases really so. But not all. Colleagues in the Bradford area are disappointed and will continue their work.
On a personal note, I remain disappointed about HS2 not reaching Leeds as planned, but we are receiving capacity increases and time improvements for north-south journeys, though not all I was hoping for and provided in a different way. I am pleased about the east-west picture. Transformation comes to mind, but that is an over-used word in politics.
The best way to judge these proposals is as a whole
The IRP should be considered by what it delivers as a whole rather than comparing one part of it, the north-south element, with the previous proposals. The rail network is one network, and a plan could not be called an integrated one if not viewed in this way.
The next question for me is how quickly the schemes can be delivered, how we maximise the benefits. The benefits these proposals promise will only be benefits if they are actually delivered. I asked about that in the House yesterday. HS2 would not have reached Leeds, for example, until the 2040s. These proposals deliver benefits 10 years earlier than that. That is good for the levelling up agenda, but especially positive for our environment.
I am pleased that we can now move to delivery. There has been no shortage of talking, and some false starts, too. Delivery is now all important, and something I am sure the APPGI will want to follow closely.
Overall, though, when the government announces the biggest investment in rail ever, I think it should be welcomed.
In case you missed it...
- Andrew’s previous blog: Spending Review and Autumn Budget 2021 - What can we expect to see?
- ICE’s summery: Will the Integrated Rail Plan be a game-changer for the North and Midlands?