Government railway plan for the North “a missed opportunity”

A comprehensive reassessment of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan is essential to ensure this once-in-a-generation rail investment is not a missed opportunity to address regional imbalances, the Transport Committee urges.

When the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands (IRP) was published last November, it scaled back Northern Powerhouse Rail’s (NPR) ambitions and Rotherham and Sheffield missed out on the new network. The IRP also showed that the eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2b would no longer reach Leeds, and instead included a commitment to look at options on how best to bring HS2 services to Leeds.

The latest report says alternative options, which could transform key northern stations and city centers, have not been adequately tested. Omitting key elements from the analysis of the broader economic impacts of the different options set out for the Northern Powerhouse Rail means that value for money and economic performance cannot be compared or validated.

The Committee requested a full analysis of the broader economic impacts and a full cost-benefit ratio for the different Northern Powerhouse Rail options. If the results show that other options offer better value and results for the taxpayer, the economy and the communities directly affected, MPs say the government ‘must seize the nettle’ and make the necessary changes.

Transport Committee Chairman Huw Merriman MP said: “We welcome the scale of government promised spending on railways. At £96 billion, the government has billed it as “the largest investment in a single rail ever made by a UK government”. The Committee agrees that it has the potential to transform rail travel for future generations.

“However, many towns and cities are already disappointed by the proposals that have been put forward. The Prime Minister promised that, with Northern Powerhouse Rail, he would do for the North what he did for Londoners with Crossrail. Instead, much of the track will be an upgrade to the existing line. The business case for HS2 was based on it heading east to Leeds. Now, he stops in the East Midlands not knowing how much money he saves.”

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Despite not being listed, government cash had already been earmarked for Rotherham mainline station and so local proponents continue to work on plans. The Parkgate area is a favorite and the project could also be linked to a tram station.

The South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) told the Government and this committee that Rotherham’s absence from the NPR network “goes against the desire to ‘upgrade’ the communities”.

Rotherham Council also presented evidence to the committee.

While welcoming the HS2 route change (the authority strongly opposed the proposed Phase 2B route M18 from the West Midlands to Leeds “which would have inflicted significant cost on our local community, without any significant benefit to our district “), Rotherham City Council wants to see savings from the change invested in NPR and improve local rail services.

The council’s response mentions capacity problems in the Sheffield Midland and spillover effects on local services, the need for a commitment to electrification beyond Sheffield to Leeds (the so-called “Northern Loop”) and a proposal for the significant expansion of the trolley car. -rail connections from Sheffield, through Rotherham and ultimately to Doncaster and Doncaster Airport (this would include the conversion of Rotherham Parkgate to Swinton and Doncaster local rail services).

At a £30m mainline station, described as being of “critical importance to Rotherham”, the council explains that it is “developing a scheme with TfN [Transport for the North, the sub-national transport body] for a combined NPR mainline station and SYMCA streetcar train station connected as a single interchange.

“TfN identified that a new Mainline station at Rotherham would be a relatively straightforward scheme for delivery within three to four years and we are interested in this being recognized within government. Any downgrading of the scheme following the change in status of TfN would be a direct detriment to our municipality.”

SYMCA’s response details that the new station “will allow NPR trains between Sheffield and Leeds and Hull to stop there and will significantly improve regional rail connectivity for Rotherham, allowing residents and businesses to capitalize on the benefits generated by the services.” from NPR.”

For example, looking for two trains per hour, NPR “shuttles” between Sheffield and Leeds stopping on the main line at Rotherham.

SYMCA’s response adds: “NPR service from Manchester Airport to Cleethorpes could also stop at the proposed station. In addition, other local and regional services could also call [the] new station, providing local connectivity to major cities including Wakefield, as well as intermediate stations to Sheffield and Leeds.

“A tram-train stop on the nearby branch line would connect the new station to the city center and other local communities. To ensure the new station can deliver much-needed early economic benefits to Rotherham, its expedited delivery must be part of the Integrated Railway Plan”.

Funding for Rotherham mainline station has already been approved: £8m from the SYMCA City Region Sustainable Transport Agreement and £10million is earmarked to support the mainline station as part of the successful award of £31.6m from Rotherham City Council from the Towns Fund. NPR is also expected to fund the flagship station.

It has been highlighted that the new stations have the potential to be in development until 2025 with delivery between 2025 and 2030.

Images: DfT

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