The Infrastructure Revolution: Railways
- June 25, 2020

Although roads and motorways can be considered as the most vital components of the general British infrastructure network, one other component which cannot be ignored is that of the nation’s railways.

The Secretary’s Pledges

British rail was emphasised as a distinct priority at the recent Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, when the Secretary for Transport, Grant Shapps, went into some detail regarding the lateness of trains in recent times and pledged to bolster the level of funding provided to railways.

He stated: “When it comes to railways, I could try to impress with the record amount we are investing, that is £48Bn over five years, whilst pushing ahead with Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

Northern Powerhouse Rail has been a long standing project since before 2015, at which point the scheme was referred to as HS3, with it’s aim being to unify the North of England as a single economy through the improvement of railway networks.

This plan of action aims to increase the degree of rail travel by a figure of 400% while also adding upwards of 35,000 seats per hour into the six core cities of the North, resulting in a productivity increase of up to two per cent in better connected locations as well as an additional 35,000 jobs in city centres.

The six core cities of the North, which were alluded to in the above statement, include Newcastle, Hull, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, and Manchester, with works to upgrade Leeds train station, under the objectives of Northern Powerhouse Rail, currently being underway.

The £13M improvement works to this station were recently view by the Transport Minister, Paul Maynard, when he visited the station on the same date that Secretary Shapps reiterated the British Government’s desire for an infrastructure revolution.

HS2

One project which does not appear to have been bolstered by the prospect on an infrastructure revolution, however, is that of HS2, which remains stranded in a state of limbo while Douglas Oakervee and Lord Berkeley carry out their independent review into the project.

The fate of the HS2 project has been called into question following the repeated increases in cost as well as extended delays to the project’s schedule completion, with the initial cost of the entire scheme’s ‘Y’ shaped network being estimated at £30Bn before being increased to a more realistic figure of £56.6Bn in 2013.

It was lately revealed though, prompting the subsequent Oakervee Review, that the cost of HS2 is now forecasted to reach a staggering sum of between £81Bn and £88Bn, with the proposed completion date of 2026 having been pushed back to 2031.

Preparation works have continued during the review, so as to prevent further drastic delays to the scheme’s delivery, should Mr Oakervee and Lord Berkley deem it worthwhile, with the demolition of the Great Western Sheds in West London having proceeded ahead of the now only-potential construction of the Old Oak Common super hub.

Although, outside of London the deforestation of woodlands, to make way for HS2 tracks, has been halted during the review process which suggests, contrary to the demolition of the Great Western Sheds, that there is a substantial likelihood that HS2 will be deemed impractical and thus scrapped.

So, with the country’s largest ever rail project appearing more and more as though it will fall by the wayside, can it be said that the government’s support of an infrastructure revolution extends to railways?

Recent Projects

Some recent projects which reaffirm that the government has not neglected the railway component of the national infrastructure network include those recently undertaken in Edinburgh, Cardiff, and at Gatwick.

The latest of these three projects is that in Edinburgh, which entails the upgrading of the Western Approach to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, and aims to increase the capacity and performance of the station as a whole so as to benefit the connecting stations which use Edinburgh as a hub.

The Scottish Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, has provided a total of £15M to the scheme which is currently undergoing initial work as well as detailed planning so that cost-benefit analyses may be carried out and another HS2-type situation can be avoided.

Meanwhile, in Cardiff, the City Council is now working on proposals for a £1Bn city infrastructure project which will entail the upgrading of buses and trams but also railways, with the construction of a light railway route suggested as being beneficial to communities on the periphery of the Welsh capital.

The Cardiff Cross Rail will travel from West to East in order to connect major population centres and new suburbs in the West with Cardiff Central, while the Cardiff Circle Line will be a complete orbital network connecting residential areas with transport links.

And finally, in July 2019, the Department for Transport pledged to invest £150M into the upgrading of the train station which serves Gatwick Airport.

So, despite the Secretary for Transport’s firm declaration that British railways are receiving a significant amount of support from the central government, the recent actions, or inactions, they have taken have provided mixed signals as to whether the Secretary’s bold statement is actually true.

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