Priorities for rail in the UK

London Transport Commissioner Mike Brown talked about priorities identified in the Mayor's Business Plan, covering five years, and Transport Strategy, looking 25 years ahead.

Improving suburban rail services would play a key part, he said. Concerning the argument for TfL taking responsibility for these, he said, "My premise is that for metro style services around a city like London it shouldn't be a one size fits all approach," he said. "Devolving to TfL is a better model – the success of London Overground demonstrates what can be achieved." A 268% increase in passenger numbers on the North London Line had come about through significant investment in rolling stock and infrastructure after it came under TfL control, but he said this would never have been a priority for Network Rail or a franchised train operator.

The recent Gibb report had recommended the transfer of Southern suburban services. This was not "a land grab", said Mr Brown, "but a bid to achieve equality of service north and south of the river. I've no aspiration to run services to Brighton," he added.

Crossrail 2 had been recognised by the National Infrastructure Commission as a project of national, not just regional, importance. TfL had been asked by the government to come up with funding proposals and would be responding soon, with the hope that the scheme could go out to consultation early next year. There was strong cross-party backing, Mr Brown said, partly because of the scheme's potential to boost housing.
"The only difference between Crossrail and Northern Powerhouse Rail is that Crossrail 2 started a bit earlier," he continued. "Transport investment should never be considered either/or." There was a need to invest throughout the UK, especially following the Brexit vote. "With Brexit, we need a clear commitment from the Government on transport investment across the country," he said.

In his role as the chair of the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce he added: "As an industry, we are hopeless at attracting enough women and people from minority groups. This is wrong morally, but also, without it we just aren't going to get the skills we need."

Transport for the North chief executive David Brown said his organisation expected to become a statutory body by the end of the year. It had been charged with producing the first transport plan for the whole of the North. "Our plan must demonstrably prove we can drive economic growth," he said. The organisation would provide "a single voice for the public and private sectors in the North to make our priorities heard." The draft strategic plan would be published by early next year.

Evidence that the "single voice" approach could work had been provided by TfN's sister organisation, Rail North, in the way it had worked with the DfT on the specification for the Northern and TransPennine franchises, which it now jointly managed. "Without that input we would have had a no-growth franchise," he said. Instead the Northern and TransPennine Express franchise would make significant investment in new trains with increased capacity and in station infrastructure, enhancing the railway as an asset.

"We want our railway not just to respond to what people are doing, but to drive growth," he said. "Businesses would invest if it didn't take an hour and 20 minutes from Manchester to Leeds." He called on the Government and industry to follow through on commitments to electrification.
TfN's key transport project was Northern Powerhouse Rail, he said. This would improve east-west connectivity. It would be a set of service improvements which would dramatically increase frequency and reduce journey times, undertaken in phases over 20-30 years.
"We're not suggesting a brand new line from Liverpool to Hull," he said. "but an enhancement of what's already there." It would use existing infrastructure where it could be upgraded and new infrastructure where needed.

It would put Manchester Airport within 90 minutes of 12 million people. "Northern Powerhouse Rail will connect 16 million people in a more efficient and transformative way," he said – with benefits "not just for the North of England but the whole of the UK".

Transport Scotland head of rail strategy and funding John Provan said: "We don't shout loudly enough about the benefits of rail to Scotland's economy."

In the last decade there had been improved services, better rolling stock, and improvements such as the Airdrie-Bathgate line and the Borders Railway. There was a "bigger, better performing ScotRail" with passenger satisfaction at an all-time high.

Current investment plans were adopting an "ABC" approach, representing alignment: making key decisions in partnership to find the best solutions for passengers; building on success to meet future demand; and competitiveness, for a value-for-money railway.

Following the change in the funding environment following the nationalisation of Network Rail, the Scottish Government would publish its long-term approach in the autumn. This would include competition in the delivery of rail projects, to increase efficiency and value for money. "We want imaginative solutions to the planning and delivery of infrastructure," he said.

Ministers' priorities were: improved journey times and connections; improved quality, accessibility and affordability; and reduced emissions. "I firmly believe rail can be at the leading edge of a low or zero carbon economy," he said.