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New research: Investing in rail essential to tackling north - south divide

26 January 2015

New research has revealed how investing in the north of England's rail services is integral to supporting economic growth and rebalancing the country's economy.

The new research, Stepping Stones to a rebalanced Britain, was  commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport and reveals how investing in new trains, improved stations and better services as part of the new Northern Rail franchise would provide essential infrastructure for growing cities and maximise the benefits from billions of pounds of investment due as part of the Northern Powerhouse.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport said:

"The north's rail network has been getting a raw deal for decades. This new research shows that major investment is not only long overdue, but is essential if we're to tackle the north south divide.

"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 They must use the new franchises for Northern Rail and TransPennine Express to get rid of outdated rolling stock, improve stations and make sure their are enough seat to cope with demand."

Stepping Stones sets out why the north's rail services need a fairer share of investment to tackle a bias in support, address a historic lack of investment and support the north's core cities. A summary of findings is set out below.

The Northern Rail franchise has been unfairly treated in national policy-making:

  • The franchise has not had the renewal and upgrade programmes of the south. Instead it has experienced ongoing cost cutting going back nearly 40 years
  • The belief that Northern Rail is the most heavily subsidised franchise is based on shaky economics, ignoring issues such as the large geographic area and complex network it serves
  • Rolling stock has been allowed to age with 87 per cent of the Northern Rail fleet, including a large number of Pacer two-carriage diesels needing to be refurbished or replaced by 2020.
  • The Prime Minister's implication that Northern's fares will be raised to pay for improved trains is out of kilter with the approach applied elsewhere, for example when Southern Train's fleet was replaced in 2000.
  • The belief that fares in northern England are low compared with the South East ignores very substantial wage differential between the areas

Investment now would make the most of spending already committed to rebalance the national economy:

  • Setting Northern Rail another ‘minimum cost’ franchise would undermine the benefits from current and planned investments such as the Northern Hub, electrification schemes and other schemes due to come on stream in the 2020s
  • Investments in the Northern franchise would, when added together, bring an appreciable contribution to objectives for skills, employment, sustainability and regeneration

We need to redress the historic lack of investment:

  • Funding is needed to replace the Pacers and develop a clear ‘regional InterCity’ network. This would generate extra revenue and build on the success that the current TPE franchise has had in growing volumes by using modern trains and marketing approaches
  • Commitment to electrification must be maintained. Currently just 13 per cent of the Northern fleet are electric trains, the rest being diesels
  • The current fares system is inconsistent, confusing and counterproductive. The new franchise should end the controversial and counterproductive evening peak tickets and introduce a zonal structure, which would be easily understood and marketed

Investment must support growth in the north's core cities:

  • Almost two-thirds of the north's gross value added contribution to the economy is created by the five city regions of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle
  • The credibility of rail’s role in supporting the north’s cities needs to be enhanced to increase capacity on rail corridors into the city centres reducing overcrowding, supporting the economy and providing a viable alternative to the car
  • Far more control of the north's rail network should be devolved as a stepping stone to a body with full responsibility for specification and financing of public transport, as Transport for London and Transport Scotland very successfully do


1. Stepping Stones to a rebalanced Britain was published 26 January 2015. A detailed summary of the main findings has been produced by Campaign for Better Transport.

2. Government is in the process of re-franchising Northern Rail and TransPennine Express rail services. The Department for Transport is due to publish an Invitation to Tender for shortlisted bidders shortly. This will set out expected terms of service under the new franchise, which is due to begin in 2016.

3. Stepping Stones was commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport and written by research group Greengauge 21. Greengauge 21 is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, with a wide aim of helping to shape tomorrow’s railway. The company was founded by Jim Steer, one of the UK’s leading transport sector specialists. Initially conceived as a means to promote a debate on the case for high-speed rail in Britain, it has established a broad research base to foster and guide high-speed rail planning. Its remit now extends into all aspects of the national rail system and its wider benefits.