The north's rail network has been getting a raw deal for decades. Major investment is essential not just to address historic under-investment, but to help tackle the north-south divide and support the some of the country’s main cities.
Today we’ve published Stepping Stones to a rebalanced Britain. Written by Greengauge 21, this sets out how and when the Government must translate notions like the Northern Powerhouse into action on the ground.
Investing in new trains, improved stations and better rail services for the north is essential. Past failures to invest mean Northern Rail is lumbered with aged rolling stock, 87 per cent of which needs to be refurbished or replaced by 2020. Spending will do much more than just redress past unfairness.. Almost two-thirds of the north's gross value added is created by the five city regions of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle. These cities need modern, high capacity rail services of the type which benefits most of the south east if they are to grow sustainably.
Most importantly, Stepping Stones sets out the pitfalls of half measures. Big investment has already been committed via the Northern Hub and electrification schemes. But the transformation of services that these projects allow won’t be realised while poor quality rolling stock, infrequent services and crumbling stations are still the norm.
There is also the question of how to pay for it. There has been dark muttering about higher fares being used to pay for new trains. Not only is it unfair to expect todays passengers to pick up the tab for decades of underinvestment, but analysis shows the north’s rail users are already paying more for their tickets as a percentage average wages than passengers in the south. It’s time for a radical re-think on fares and the report sets out how this might be achieved through a move to a zonal fares system.
All eyes are on the Government. They must use the new franchises for Northern Rail and TransPennine Express to get rid of outdated rolling stock, improve services and begin supporting the long term aspirations of the north of England.