North of England leaders demand ‘Northern Budget’ to boost region

Key leaders from across the North of England have called for Government commitment to a ‘Northern Budget’ which could be used to deliver a boost to the region’s infrastructure.

The call has been backed by board members of Transport for the North (TfN), and asks the new Government to deliver on commitments previously promised to the region’s more than 15 million people as part of the Northern Powerhouse agenda.

Northern leaders have suggested that this budget could help the North’s economic fortunes flourish.

Chancellor Sajid Javid announced just days ago a fast-tracked spending round for Government departments for the next year.

As part of the call, leaders from the North have asked for a commitment to three core ‘asks’ in order to get the bare essential in better transport infrastructure in the short, medium and long-term.

Those core commitments included:

  • A £7bn Northern Infrastructure Pipeline – a list of shovel-ready road and rail projects to be delivered by the mid-2020s.
  • Building the full £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) network by 2040.
  • A £1bn for TfN over the next three years to deliver on its vision, including funding for the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail and other road and rail schemes.

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already pledged to boost infrastructure in the North by delivering a new high-speed rail line between Manchester and Leeds.

Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, said: “The North is now at the top of the national political agenda, with promises to balance out the UK’s economy and unleash our potential by better connecting our towns and cities.

“We now need a Northern Budget to make both the shovel-ready projects and the ambitious longer-term programmes like Northern Powerhouse Rail a reality.

“Closing the productivity gap between North and South is essential if we’re to compete on a global stage – but the North’s constrained by creaking infrastructure.

“Whilst the Government is planning for a one-year spending round for its departments against a Brexit backdrop, there is no reason why we can’t see real commitment and recognition of the ambitious pipeline of infrastructure investments the North so badly needs.”

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, added: “Government may look different, but our ‘asks’ are not.

“We’re consistent and focussed in our plan for what infrastructure the north needs to unlock its full potential, not just for its own benefit, but for the whole UK.

“A ‘Northern Budget’ would be the ultimate demonstration of commitment.”

Wherry Lines signalling modernisation work announced

Network Rail has announced planned engineering work to be undertaken in Norfolk, as part of a modernisation programme on the Wherry Lines between Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

The planned engineering work, due to take place in February 2020, will see passengers benefit from a significant upgrade in reliability and safety when a digitally-enabled signalling system is installed and goes live.

Modernisation works on the line are expected to take 23 days.

Currently the line operates with mechanical Victorian semaphore signals – some of the oldest in the country – which are now set to be replaced with a modern, computerised signalling system. Plans for the modernisation of the route’s signalling system have been in the pipeline for some time now, with a date finally set.

Network Rail is committed to bringing all of its assets into the digital age and ensuring a safer environment for passengers and rail workers, as well as improving passenger experience, providing better live passenger information and quicker recovery if the system fails.

The new signalling system will be controlled from the Colchester Rail Operating Centre.

As part of the works, the signals will be switched on and six level crossings at Brundall, Cantley, Lingwood Chapel Road, Lingwood Station Road, Oulton Broad North and Strumpshaw will be upgraded to full barriers with remotely controlled CCTV which will improve safety for level crossing users.

Network Rail have also rescheduled repairs and renewals work to coincide with the closure, including a full bridge replacement at Postwick and track renewals at Lowestoft, Acle and Hassingham. The bridge at Postwick has come to the end of its life, and a new bridge structure will be installed that is designed to last 120 years.

Additional maintenance works will be carried out to Reedham and Somerleyton swing bridges to improve reliability of services by upgrading the current detection systems which have been in use since the mid-1940s.

In order to complete the re-signalling and renewals plans, the 23 days of work will be carried out over three phases starting at the beginning of February 2020, and will affect passenger services on the line during those times.

Meliha Duymaz, Network Rail’s route managing director for Anglia, said: ““We will deliver a large package of railway upgrade works for passengers across the Wherry lines during just over a three-week period in February 2020.

“I’m sorry that 23 days of engineering works will be difficult for passengers but completing these large-scale projects and maintenance in one coordinated effort, will help reduce the overall amount of disruption and deliver a safer, modern and reliable railway for many years to come.”

Jamie Burles, Greater Anglia managing director, added: ”We are sorry to customers for the inconvenience that this engineering work causes them, but we will make sure they can still complete their journeys, even if some of it is by bus.

“By carrying out the work in a 23-day block, Network Rail is able to complete the work sooner and quicker with fewer weekend works.

“Along with Network Rail, we are transforming the railway in Norfolk, and this major upgrade, combined with our new trains, is bringing it into the 21st century.

Work on £27m East of England upgrades set to begin

A £27m project aimed at tackling congestion on peak train services in the East of England is set to begin later this year.

The upgrades, between Cambridge and King’s Lynn, will include two platform extensions at Waterbeach and a platform extension at Littleport.

This will allow the introduction of eight-car services during peak times, providing passengers with more seats and a better experience.

Connectivity for immediate stations will also be improved by the work, as well as supporting local development and regeneration plans along the Cambridge rail corridor.

Preparation work will start later this summer, with the main works scheduled to begin in October. The project is expected to be completed by next summer.

Boris Johnson not looking to scrap HS2 despite £100bn cost

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said despite estimates suggesting the HS2 high speed rail line will cost more than £100bn, he was not currently intending to scrap any major infrastructure projects.

Having announced a review into HS2, leading to speculation the project could be cancelled. The initial budget for the high speed rail line had been £57bn.

However, speaking to Birmingham Live, Mr Johnson addressed the concerns over the project and reiterated his commitment to improving infrastructure around the country.

He also suggested that Birmingham’s HS2 station at Curzon Street, in the city centre, would be operating as planned in 2026.

Mr Johnson explained: “I do think it’s only responsible as an incoming government, with all the controversy surrounding the spend on HS2, which will probably be north of £100bn, it’s only responsible to have a short review without interrupting the timetable at Curzon Street or anywhere else.”

Rail expert Doug Oakervee has been asked by Mr Johnson to conduct the review into HS2, but the new Prime Minister suggested this was designed to look for waste rather than to lead to cancelling the scheme.

Mr Johnson added: “I want him to look at it. I want him to look at the profile of the spend, to establish if there’s waste and whether it could be re-profiled in any way.

“But I want to stress to everybody that, look there’s no-one more fanatical about major infrastructure projects than me … I’m going to hesitate for a long time before scrapping any major infrastructure project.”

University Station redevelopment plan launched in Birmingham

University Station at Edgbaston, Birmingham is one of the West Midlands’ busiest railway stations, being situated at the entrance of both the University of Birmingham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Built in 1978, the station was originally designed for around 400,000 passengers a year. It now receives nearly 3.5 million.

The West Midlands Rail Executive (WMRE) and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) are leading a project to create a fit-for-the-future station capable of accommodating 7.2 million passengers a year to improve transport to the area.

Speaking to Rail Technology Magazine at the station plan’s launch event, mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, commented he was keen to continue to oversee projects like the new University Station, which made a difference to the transport infrastructure of both Birmingham and the wider region.

He said: “This is about is about giving the [University of] Birmingham and our hospitals a station to be really proud of. It’ll give much better conditions for passengers using it and the right sense of arrival when you get to this great part of the city.”

The proposed station is expected to be completed ahead of Birmingham and the region hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games, but Mr Street was keen to add that the new station was just as crucially about improving the day-to-day lives and commutes of the people of the city as it was to support the city’s upcoming sporting event.

“It’s not just for the Commonwealth Games, but we want to get this done by the time of the games because two big events will be hosted at the University of Birmingham. Athletes and spectators from all around the world will be coming here.

“But, after the games, it will also give citizens, students and visitors to Birmingham something that will work really well and encourage more and more people to use the railway.

“That’s the big story, rail is a huge success for the West Midlands economy at the moment, driving forward our performance, usage up around 8% year on year and we want to keep investing on all the infrastructure that makes that possible.”

The new station building, which will be located on the opposite end of the platform to the existing station, is set to offer a bright and comfortable space and new facilities for passengers. Platforms will be connected by a wide footbridge, which will also provide direct access from the station across the canal to the university campus.

The new station building, located close to the existing station, will offer a bright and comfortable space and new facilities for passengers. Platforms will be connected by a wide footbridge which will also provide direct access from the station across the canal to the University campus.

An artist’s rendering of the newly-unveiled proposals for the redevelopment of University Station in Edgbaston, Birmingham

Alongside the new station, West Midlands Railway’s customer experience director, Richard Brooks, explained that there is also set to be significant investment into the service’s trains, with around £700m being spent, including the arrival of a new fleet.

Mr Brooks said: “It’s really important that we get ready for the future. The station is an integral part of that, but we’re also buying 36 new trains to go on the route, which will be with us in the next two years.

“By the time the Commonwealth Games comes we’ll have new trains, a new station and we’ll be able to give people that use this station the experience they deserve.”

Mr Brooks also expressed how having greater passenger capacity from the additional fleet of trains would also link in with the ongoing green strategy within the Midlands, allowing more people to come to the area by train, reducing car usage and helping minimise the local environmental impact.

Massive 29% rise in rail over last decade uncovered by survey

Rail has been described as ‘a runaway success story’ in an influential national transport survey which examines trends over the past decade.

Fewer commutes per person, reduced car use in major urban centres and rapidly falling bus patronage – these were some of the transport trends in the UK’s biggest cities and city regions, as identified in the Urban Transport Group’s latest data report.

The report – Number crunch 2019: Urban transport trends in changing times – drew on local city region data, as well as national statistics, and examined the last decade and the most recent data.

Regional rail, including most local services in the Metropolitan areas, has seen soaring patronage, hitting 389 million in 2017/18 – a huge increase of 29% since 2008/09.

The survey uncovered a decline in the traditional, daily commute as working patterns and practices have changed. On average, people made 14 fewer commutes a year in 2017 than they did in 2008.

Stephen Edwards, Chair of the Urban Transport Group and Executive Director at South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, said: “We are living in rapidly changing times, and our travel habits in cities are changing at pace too. From a runaway success for rail services to more blues for the bus, this report reveals the transport trends that are shaping the way we travel in urban areas.

“The report is not just about celebrating winners or commiserating losers – in these changing times, the case for coordinated and integrated transport planning at the city region level and for long term funding is stronger than ever.

“We hope the latest report – and our Data Hub upon which it is based – will arm policy makers with the numbers needed to ensure transport plays its role in creating greener, fairer, healthier and more prosperous city regions.”

New railway station to be built in Ayr to replace historic stop

A new station is set to be built in Ayr town centre to replace the current railway stop, part of which had been housed in the historic Station Hotel – which was declared unsafe in August last year.

Transport Scotland called the erection of a new station “urgent”.

ScotRail staff have been working from portable cabins, while an exclusion zone had been established around the Victorian hotel and the available platform space therefore shortened – reducing the passenger capacity of trains at the station.

The future of Station Hotel is still uncertain while a structural report on the building is completed, while the nearby Burns House is set to be demolished in upcoming months and a square in the town set to be transformed.

A spokesperson for Transport Scotland said: “There is clearly an urgent need to build adequate station facilities at Ayr station, one of ScotRail’s busiest.

“Ideally, this should be linked to plans for the Station Hotel, Burns Statue Square and soon to be demolished Burns council office building. We stand ready to provide further support and guidance as this plan progresses.

“Returning full rail passenger services to Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway as quickly and safely as possible was the key initial priority.”

Next steps will include the council sharing the structural report with a specialist taskforce group, which was set up to deal with the crisis at the station building.

South Ayrshire Council leader Douglas Campbell said there was an “opportunity to have a modern railway facility in Ayr.”

Up to £58m funding commitment for Cardiff Central Station upgrade

Up to £58m funding to upgrade Cardiff Central Station has been confirmed today, 22 July, by the transport secretary.

Subject to the necessary assurances that the scheme represents value for money, these upgrades will ease crowding and congestion through the station during peak periods, drive forward regeneration and enable longer trains with more seats to serve the capital.

Secretary of state for transport, Chris Grayling, said: “Passengers in Cardiff deserve a modern, accessible station at the heart of their vibrant city centre. This funding has the potential to deliver just that, ensuring more reliable, comfortable and faster journeys into and out of the capital.

“It is imperative that the two governments in Wales work closely together – in doing so, this strengthens the Union and I look forward to receiving the proposals for an ambitious and deliverable business case.”

Secretary of state for Wales, Alun Cairns, said: “We’re committed to improving standards of service for rail passengers across Wales.

“This funding will allow Cardiff to become an attractive tourist and commuter destination at a crucial time in the city’s regeneration.

“We are also committing to progressing plans for a West Wales Parkway station, which will deliver time savings of up to a quarter of an hour from Pembrokeshire to Cardiff and increase local connectivity around Swansea to provide greater opportunities for the whole of the Swansea Bay City region.”

This investment builds on the £5bn sum the UK government is investing on improving journeys for passengers on the Great Western Mainline between South Wales and London, targeted at introducing more reliable and faster services, new trains and more seats.

The UK government is progressing plans for a new West Wales Parkway station, near Swansea, to boost connectivity and capacity for passengers across the south and west of Wales.

Rail companies give free travel to Invictus Games 2019

From today, rail companies are now providing free travel for over a 100 wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans, as well as their companions, to allow them to compete in the UK trials for the Invictus Games.

The Invictus UK Trials Sheffield 2019, which is delivered through a partnership of Help for Heroes, the Ministry of Defence and The Royal British Legion,

The trials are to run from 22-26 July in four locations around Sheffield, The English Institute of Sport Sheffield, Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, Sheffield Hallam University Athletics Track and a closed cycle circuit around the City.

Supported by their friends, family and carers, over 350 competitors are to take part in up to nine sports.

This includes Archery, Athletics, Cycling, Indoor Rowing, Powerlifting, Sitting Volleyball, Swimming, Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Rugby.

On behalf of all rail companies, the Rail Delivery Group has offered commemorative passes to all competitors, partners or carers who are helping to support the athletes to and from Sheffield, as well as volunteers.

This will provide free rail travel:

  • to Sheffield or Meadowhall stations from any station in Great Britain between Friday 19 July and Friday 26 July
  • from Sheffield or Meadowhall stations to any station in Great Britain between Monday 22 July and Saturday 27 July.

The Rail Delivery Group have now sent the passes to 149 people who have taken them up on the offer.

Along with a packed sports schedule, a wider programme of activity is taking place across the City, supported by Invictus UK’s delivery partners and Sheffield organisations.

Once in Sheffield, Stagecoach Supertram will be offering competitors, as well as their companions with a tram, endorsed accreditation pass in order for them to have free tram travel whilst the trials take place.

Rail companies can also support passengers with assisted travel, which can either be booked by phone, textphone or online.

The rail industry is working together to change and improve accessibility across the network, including introducing thousands more accessible trains, upgrading stations and improving technology for booking assistance.

What did the officials have to say?

Jacqueline Starr, Chief Operating Officer at the Rail Delivery Group, said:

“The rail industry is delighted to offer free travel for the inspiring people taking part in the Invictus UK Trials next week, as well as their companions. Working together, we’re helping to connect communities all across Britain with Sheffield and make it a really exciting event.”

Antony Baines, Director of Operations at The Royal British Legion, said:

“Behind every Team UK member, there are friends, families and carers who have helped get them to the start line. We are delighted that train companies recognise this contribution and are extremely grateful of the free transport they are providing to competitors, their partners and carers. A life-changing injury or illness has a huge impact on both the individual and those around them, so it’s only right that the competitors have the support of their loved ones at the Invictus UK Trials next week.”

SWR announce solar-powered rail project

South Western Railway (SWR) have announced a scheme to power trains through connecting solar panels directly into the railway system as traction current.

The innovative project is the first of its kind in the UK rail industry. It aims to tap into renewable energy’s potential to make reductions in carbon emissions and future running costs.

Amelia Woodley, SWR’s Head of Sustainability, said: “The rail industry plays an important role in reducing carbon emissions.

“SWR has reduced its emissions by 33% over the last 12 months and are continuing to install renewables, and other technologies, to cut our carbon emissions by 60% overall within the next five years.

“With the recent passing of net zero emissions legislation in the UK, there’s never been a better time to partner with the Riding Sunbeams to change the way the rail industry responds to this global challenge.

“I look forward to speaking to local people dropping-in this Wednesday at Aldershot station about the solar project and the many other exciting schemes that SWR is undertaking to reduce its carbon footprint.”

The 135 solar panels are currently being installed on derelict land near the station, without disrupting services, and are expected be switched on in August.

If the scheme passes real-world application, then much larger solar projects could be rolled out across the network to power the industry in the future.

The Riding Sunbeams’ project is a collaboration between climate change charity 10:10, Community Energy South and national rail infrastructure operator Network Rail.

The project is funded by Innovate UK and the Department for Transport in a bid to transform the energy supply of Britain’s railway.