Monday, November 4, 2013

News: North prepares for rail devolution

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A Long Term Rail Strategy for the North of England has placed Rotherham within an important "interconnected urban matrix" where a consistent high standard of express rail services would boost the economy.

South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) joined forces with other transport organisation across the North of England to create Rail North. It has commissioned a strategy to set the agenda for the specification and management of future passenger rail franchising in the North should responsibility be devolved from central Government for the Northern and Transpennine rail franchises.

Delivering the Long Term Rail Strategy creates an opportunity to increase the North's economy by up to £50bn over a 60-year appraisal period. The strategy sets out what the rail network should provide and indicates what cost-effective and value for money interventions can be used.

The strategy comes as the Government's Office of Rail Regulation answered Network Rail's business plans for the period 2014 to 2019 (known as Control Period Five, or CP5).

Network Rail are the owners and operators of Britain's rail infrastructure and its plans are key to the strategy for the North. They include big investment projects such as the Northern Hub, the massive upgrading of the rail network of the North that is set to create 20,000 jobs and increases rail capacity across the north of England by 700 services per day. Elements includes £45m for doubling Dore junction and Calder Valley journey time improvement.

The Northen Hub aims to reduce journey times and increase capacity between Manchester and Sheffield and has a reduced budget of £500m.

Another important project is the electrification of the Midland Main Line that links London to Sheffield. It will allow more frequent, more reliable and quicker trains to run on the route as we wait for HS2.

Network Rail had only planned to electrify parts of the line between Nottingham and St Pancras by December 2019, with Derby to Sheffield then expected to be electrified by December 2021 in Network Rail's next control period (CP6). The Government has however challenged Network Rail to re-prioritise the roll-out of the programme, for example by bringing electrification to Sheffield into CP5.

The Northern Hub has the potential to improve services to the redeveloped Rotherham Central station in the future but commitment to the innovative £58m Tram Train project between Sheffield and Rotherham is the only major Network Rail project for the borough.

If Rail North's strategy comes forward, Rotherham's station could be in line for vastly improved services.

The vision suggests that improving services between key towns and cities in the North (including Rotherham) will make a significant contribution to economic growth by improving connectivity between businesses. The hope is that the rail network will provide in-vehicle rail journey times for services between these centres that are quicker than the off-peak car journey time. The minimum frequency journey should be two trains per hour.

In response to the Rail North strategy, the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority, said: "Rotherham is a major centre within the Sheffield City Region which currently has relatively poor strategic rail connectivity. We support the inclusion of Rotherham within the connected urban matrix of main centres and welcome the conditional output for enhanced strategic connectivity for these centres. This would provide a step-change in connectivity, and significantly improve rail access between Rotherham and the HS2 station planned for Sheffield."

The main issue for Rotherham is the Holmes Chord, currently a single track with a severe curve alignment, which requires many through passenger services to bypass Rotherham Central Station.

Rail North website

Images: SYPTE

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