Rail matters

posted 10 Jul 2014, 08:45 by Roy McDonald   [ updated 11 Jul 2014, 03:35 ]
10 July 2014

Roy McDonald Consulting welcomes several recent announcements concerning rail development in the North West of England.

Whilst we have been lukewarm towards HS2, we believe that the concept of HS3 for a high speed east-west rail link across the North of England is an altogether more enticing prospect. However, we are disappointed (but not surprised) that the focus is primarily on connecting Manchester and Leeds.

Properly thought out, the opportunity is there to promote a true east-west high speed rail corridor which would connect the principal cities of the north. (Sorry Newcastle, but I see you as an extension of HS2). By utilising existing infrastructure and formations, wherever possible, we believe that a new game-changing railway could be created in a much more cost effective way.

Imagine, if you will, a route which starts on the Liverpool Waterfront, near the King's Dock Arena and utilises the old Wapping tunnel out of the City. 

A new station at Speke, would improve access to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and encourage the airports of the North to work in a co-ordinated way. (i.e.scheduled, long-haul from Manchester and short haul and charter from Liverpool and Leeds-Bradford).The new line could then take the old St Helens Railway route through Widnes - with a new strategic Parkway station on the north bank of the Mersey serving the new Mersey Gateway crossing, before diving under Warrington Bank Quay station (for interchange with the West Coast Main Line). Admittedly, the alignment around Manchester, to serve the City Centre and the Airport would need to be worked out in conjunction with HS2.

East of Manchester, the Woodhead tunnel is the obvious choice for a high speed crossing of the Pennines - although it has long be said that this cannot now be used because of the National Grid electricity cables. However, it is our contention that a solution could be found to avoid these, and at less cost than boring new tunnels under Standedge.

Once through Woodhead the route would bifurcate, with a spur north to Leeds and a second south to Sheffield. 

Reducing inter-city journey times would undoubtedly be good for the North, but crucially, the new route would free up capacity on the existing rail lines for enhanced commuter services and freight movements.

HS3 is an exciting concept, which deserves to be taken seriously. However, we are concerned that it is currently lacking the vision to truly support the "Northern Powerhouse".

Also announced recently was the go-ahead (finally) for the Halton Curve. Why this has been prevaricated over for so long has baffled us. Our only concern is where the rolling stock will be found for the potential new services!

Next up, could we finally see the go-ahead given for the extension of the Merseyrail electrification on the Borderlands line?

Consultation is underway for both the new Northern and Trans-Pennine rail franchises. It is pleasing to see that these documents recognise the issue of insufficient and inadequate rolling stock. 

But is it right that the North West to Scotland services are still included in the Trans-Pennine franchise? There is no doubt that First TPE has done an excellent job in developing these services and the new electric stock has been welcomed (although from a passenger perspective whether they are the correct vehicles for the route is another debate!).

Is there a case for these Anglo-Scottish services to be devolved into a separate franchise, with through services from Liverpool and Blackpool added to the service pattern? TPE has already shown that they can join and split trains at Preston?

Similarly, within the Northern franchise area, we believe that there are a number of missed opportunities for the micro-franchising of some individual lines, which would enable committed local providers to develop services and facilities tailored both to local needs, and to promoting the tourist potential. 

Whichever way you look at it, for the North of England, rail really does matter!