Northern rail leaders unite and demand end to 30-year investment drought

Rail businesses from across the north have issued a series of recommendations on how best to deliver an estimated further £600m in economic growth and 10,000 jobs.

Northern Rail Industry Leaders (NRIL) has published its Building the North’s New Railways report which outlines how vital the rail industry is by contributing £7.3bn in economic growth to the Northern Powerhouse area and supporting some 132,700 jobs.

It follows the publication of Transport for the North’s (TfN) £70bn strategic transport plan last month which outlined how it could contribute towards an additional £100bn for the north’s economy, while creating an extra 850,000 jobs.

The programme includes money pumped into schemes such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, upgraded and new major roads, enhancements to the existing rail network and the continued roll out of smart ticketing.

In support of TfN, the report says how its plan attempts to reverse decades of investment which has been focused on London and the south east. Northern transport leaders want to “address the imbalance” and improve connectivity within the region.

A significant amount of work is said to be needed to tackle the north-south divide with much of the rail infrastructure in the north pre-dating the modern electric era – dating back from the post-war modernisation programmes of the 1950s and 1960s.

Leaders have issued 14 recommendations on how rail businesses can support planned rail investment, including developing digital and decarbonisation route maps for the north, and pooling unspent apprenticeship levy funding to enable more SMEs to employ apprentices.

When it comes to decarbonisation, NRIL’s recommend conventional electrification of intensively used lines and specifying low to zero carbon self-powered trains, such as low emission bi-mode, hydrogen fuel cell or battery for through services onto less intensively used parts of the network.

Other recommendations set out in the report include the need for more consistency in funding with NRIL wanting TfN to work with other transport bodies across the UK, including Network Rail, HS2 Ltd, Transport for London, Transport Scotland and Transport for Wales to align transport investment plans in order to avoid creating peaks and troughs at a national level.

A stable pipeline of work is seen as vital for rail suppliers and leaders say TfN and its delivery partners should seek to ensure a visible and stable pipeline of work supporting the long term North Strategic Transport Plan.

Mike Hulme, co-chair of NRIL, said: “Building the North’s New Railways is a ground-breaking report, setting out how rail businesses can support TfN’s vital work. The coming few years provide a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity for the North of England – and rail businesses across the region are ready to seize that opportunity.”

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, added: “In the North, NRIL’s work on the importance of devolved decision-making and investment is a great example of what can be done, ultimately to the benefit of passengers, freight users and the taxpayer.” 

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