London’s train infrastructure surges ahead
The united call from across the north for the Government to finally honour its promises on northern railways is needed – but not new. This time, the fury revolves around the loss of the HS2 eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds, as well as fears that Northern Powerhouse Rail’s Manchester-Leeds line via Bradford has been removed from the Integrated Rail Plan, to be published on Thursday. The fight is crucial; the sense of injustice familiar.
: Choose the North: The government must deliver on railway promises In 2014, George Osborne announced the ‘Northern Hub’, a GBP1bn infrastructure upgrade in the north of England dubbed the ‘biggest investment in Manchester’s railways since the Victorian era’. Including upgrades to Manchester Piccadilly, Oxford Road station and the electrification of the Manchester-Leeds route, many of these projects were aimed at easing the ‘most congested section of railway in the country’.
(Image: Manchester Evening News)
Some projects went ahead, including the GBP85m Orsall Chord and the Manchester to Preston electrification.
But sadly the Northern Hub was largely derailed, for reasons including poor ground conditions, scrapped contractors and DfT delays. The resulting infrastructure problems were partly to blame for 2018’s timetable crisis. Fast forward to this week, and rail operators are fine-tuning the detail of the timetables for 2022.
Reduced services will continue as they grapple with the Manchester bottleneck. Meanwhile, in the south, the Government-sponsored GBP7bn Thameslink Programme for north-south travel through London and as far as Brighton is complete, the budget for central London’s Crossrail, to be opened next year, has ballooned to more than GBP18bn – and the overhaul of London Bridge station cost GBP1bn.
Manchester is not the only city needing vital upgrades – experts point to Preston, Stockport, Chester, Sheffield, Doncaster, Leeds, Darlington and Newcastle – and that’s before you even touch on the issue of rolling stock. But, as Liam Robinson, chairman of the Rail North Committee, says, this city’s stations and infrastructure are the ‘buckle in the belt’ of the northern network, which ‘has to be allowed to do its job’.
Sadly, success depends on the Government first doing theirs’. Here’s a look at their track record.
(Image: ABNM Photography)
Manchester Piccadilly Station
Was promised: December 2018 Delay: Three years and counting
Meanwhile: In 2018, five new platforms were opened as part of Network Rail’s GBP1bn redevelopment of London Bridge station. It can now serve 96 million people a year, up from about 50 million. In 2014, George Obsorne promised two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly.
Originally costed at around GBP300m, platforms 15 and 16 were to be built over Fairfield Street to alleviate congestion, allowing 14 trains through the station each hour, as opposed to 10. Vitally, it would help the GBP85m Ordsall Chord – a link between Piccadilly and Victoria which was completed as part of the Northern Hub in 2017 – fulfil its potential in boosting capacity and easing the Castlefield bottleneck. This bottleneck has constrained the flow of rail services for years and generated millions of minutes of costly and damaging delays.
It’s held partly to blame for 2018’s timetable disaster, which left commuters’ lives in disarray. Also back in 2018, the Manchester Evening News asked Network Rail what was happening with this plan. They said the Transport and Work Act Order was with the DfT and they were ‘awaiting a decision’.
While we were waiting, Transport for the North, a body to drive transport infrastructure, was established.
Through the ‘Manchester Recovery Task Force’, they are now developing a plan which encompasses new platforms at Piccadilly, as well as other measures to ease the bottleneck at Castlefield, taking into account plans for new rail links and HS2. TfN has been pressing very hard as a member of the Task Force for an accelerated programme of work so full timetables can be re-introduced. It’s understood the view in the north is that the project did ‘stall badly’ but that it’s now getting the attention it deserves.
But it does depend on Thursday’s Integrated Rail Plan, how it fits in with Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 – the subject of an ongoing dispute about whether a new station can be built underground – and of course Government funding. Today, the Manchester Evening New s asked the Department for Transport (Dft) to explain the delay and provide a new date. A spokesman said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”
There are a number of ways to complain to Northern Rail (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
Transpennine electrification Manchester – Leeds
Was promised: December 2018
Delay: Three years and counting Now: TBC Meanwhile: The Government-sponsored GBP7bn Thameslink Programme bringing ‘faster, more frequent, more reliable’ journeys for north-south travel through London’ is complete.
Aimed at slashing 15 minutes from the travel time between Manchester and Leeds and, vitally, boosting capacity, this upgrade has been an aspiration since 2009 as part of the ‘Northern Hub’. But the initial plan was ‘paused’ in 2015 when an original budget of GBP260m rocketed to GBP600m following Network Rail ‘failings’. Patrick McLoughlin, then Transport Secretary, said a new plan for works, to be completed by 2017, would be even better.
In 2018, Network Rail told the Manchester Evening News ‘options had been submitted to the DfT for consideration’. Although then slated for 2019, the ground work only started in 2021.
The upgrade was supposed to happen in addition to the new Manchester-Leeds route via Bradford, a key line in the GBP39bn Northern Powerhouse project feared to be in jeopardy. Now it looks like the electrified route could be the only option on the table. But according to experts, both routes are ‘absolutely vital’ to free up the line for more passengers and freight to move between major northern cities, help the country reach net zero by getting more cars off the road and integrate with HS2.
The Manchester Evening News asked the DfT about the delay to this project. A spokesman said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”
Oxford Road station (Image: Steve Allen)
Oxford Road Station
Was Promised: December 2018 Delay: Three years and counting
Meanwhile: In August the original entrance to Whitechapel Station, which has a new ticket hall and concourse, was reopened – following an GBP831m makeover. Part of the Crossrail project, creating a railway network east to west across London, the station will almost ‘double its capacity’ once the Elizabeth line opens next year. The Manchester Evening News first saw architect plans for Oxford Road Station back in 2015, with platform extensions to boost capacity among them.
This work was described as vital to ease congestion on local commuter services feeding cities and towns around the region. It’s key for the Sheffield to Manchester Airport route and services from Liverpool which fall foul of the bottleneck. The upgrade on the Grade II listed building also included a pedestrian link on a new pavement and a well-lit sheltered walkway linking the area to First Street and the station with Home.
Network Rail said in 2018 that the Work Act Order was awaiting approval from the DfT.
Like Manchester Piccadilly’s upgrade, Oxford Road improvements are now being considered alongside a whole range of measures to improve services including major junctions to the east and west, by the Manchester Recovery Taskforce. It’s understood the task force is ‘ready and willing’ to give evidence on why these upgrades are so vital. It’s a key consideration if a full rail timetable – which has been pared back to stop delays and cancellations – is to be re-introduced.
Once again, any works on Oxford Road now have to be considered alongside HS2 and NPR, and so are dependent on the Integrated Rail Plan out on Thursday. The Manchester Evening News asked the DfT about the delay to this project. A spokesman said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”
Hope Valley Scheme – Manchester-Sheffield track improvements
Was Promised: December 2018
Delay: Three years Planned to answer demand for travel between Manchester and Sheffield. Work is to improve sections of railway close to Dore & Totley station, and between Bamford and Hathersage stations.
A new ‘passing loop’ plus track extension would allow faster trains to overtake slower moving freight trains. It would allow for three fast trains per hour instead of two. Network rail said in 2018 they were awaiting approval from the Department for Transport.
It’s understood this scheme is ‘now progressing’.
A DfT spokesman said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”
- ^ Choose the North: The government must deliver on railway promises (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- ^ partly to blame for 2018’s timetable crisis. (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- ^ 2018’s timetable disaster (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- ^ Transport for the North, a body to drive transport infrastructure, was established. (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- ^ the subject of an ongoing dispute about whether a new station can be built underground (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- ^ feared to be in jeopardy. (www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
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