Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Rail upgrades no real benefit to Lancaster, says expert

Local transport expert Professor John Whitlegg has welcomed the news that the North West's transport links will be transformed by a £9 billion national programme of rail investment announced by the government yesterday - but the upgrades won't do much for local rail services, or users.

His view appears to be shared by Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw, based on some of his commentts in the House of Commons yesterday.

Announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Transport Secretary Justine Greening, the government says the rail upgrades will deliver faster journeys, more seats and more frequent trains across the North West and beyond.

"This is all good news and long overdue," says John, who is Managing Director of transport planning company Eco-Logica and the Green Party's Sustainable Development Spokesperson. "It will give passengers on the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-York corridor a much better service."

The landmark package, described as the biggest expansion in railways in over 150 years,  includes completion in full of the “Northern Hub” cluster of rail enhancements with the approval of more than £300m of outstanding track and capacity upgrades including; around £200m for the Castlefield Corridor scheme to increase capacity across central Manchester and provide two additional through platforms at Piccadilly station; and capacity enhancements of around £50m on the Chat Moss route between Liverpool and Manchester; and extra capacity around Manchester Airport and Rochdale.

These are in addition to almost £500m of Northern Hub schemes already approved across  Northern England such as electrification of the North Trans Pennine route, allowing two new fast trains per hour between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool, two extra trains per hour between Manchester and Leeds, a reduction in journey times between Leeds and Manchester by an average of 15 minutes and between Leeds and Liverpool by an average of 35 minutes.

There will also be a new direct service through Manchester city centre to Manchester Airport.

Extra peak train capacity for the 6,200 more passengers forecast to travel in and out of Manchester. The rail industry will now work out how best to provide this and what further changes (such as platform lengthening) this may require.

Despite the announced improvements, John is disappointed they offer little for North Lancashire rail users.

"It's a shame," he told virtual-lancaster. "There is a very strong case for rail investment between Lancaster-Morecambe-Heysham which should include electrification and enhancements so that rail freight can get to the port of Heysham.

"There is still no joined up thinking in central or local government on transport in this area," argues John, who has worked on sustainable transport projects for 30 years. "Government is happy to spend over £120 million on the Heysham M6 Link road justified largely on the back of the importance of the port of Heysham.

"Lancashire County Council has made it clear that this link road is not seen as a solution to Lancaster’s traffic problems so it remains a port project and European experience shows that rail freight can contribute massively to the success of a port.

"A huge boost for rail freight to Heysham on an electrified line would also make it much easier to give us a German or Swiss style rail passenger service," John feels, "with a 20 minute frequency of state of the art trains running between Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham with bus connections at all station that actually meet trains and with combined tickets that cover trains and buses and are reasonably priced.

"This would be real progress but we are being ignored in all the hype about the northern hub and in the meantime the obsession with high speed trains will mop up all rail money for the next three decades and see a reduction in Lancaster’s train services to London."

While welcoming the rail investment news, local MP Eric Ollerenshaw has also been critical of local rail development, noting in the House of Commons yesterday that Fleetwood has seen "13 years of rusty railway lines and still have no trains on them."

The improvements will be delivered under the Government’s High Level Output Specification for the railways for 2014-19. The rail industry will now carry out further work to determine the scope of works required and the likely start and completion dates of the schemes. It will publish its plans in January 2013.

The Northern Hub project is a programme of rail enhancements based in and radiating from Manchester. It is designed to stimulate economic growth by improving train services across the North of England. The potential services and economic benefits run as far as Newcastle and Hull in the east to Chester and Liverpool in the west.

The Government previously announced that the go-ahead for the Ordsall Chord, line speed and capacity improvements between Manchester and Sheffield and line speed improvements between Manchester and Preston and Manchester and Bradford parts of the Northern Hub scheme.

Commenting on Fleetwood's rail woes raised by Lancaster's MP, Justine Greening told the House of Commons the town's problems were "really a local matter for my honorable Friend’s regional passenger transport executive.

"As he will know, we are electrifying the Manchester to Blackpool railway line, which will provide real benefits. I am keen, as colleagues across the House know, to understand what people want next. If I know what they want next, I can set about seeing whether we can provide it."

Perhaps the citizens of Fleetwood might like to drop her a line...

• The High Level Output Specification (HLOS) statement can be found at: www.dft.gov.uk/publications/hlos-2012

• Maps of how HLOS is benefitting each region can be found at: www.dft.gov.uk/publications/hlos-2012/#illustrative-options

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