Much has been made in recent days over the cancellation of HS2, and the abandonment of Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the new Integrated Rail Plan has been greeted with considerable scepticism – in the north of England in particular. The CILT (Chartered Institute of Logistics) made some interesting observations about the impact, or affect it will have on the network’s freight capacity, and how that may change.
One intriguing observation about the ad-hoc upgrades outlined in this new plan drove me to look at some of the details. The CILT made this comment in their press release:
“CILT welcomes the creation of a new line from Warrington through Manchester to Marsden, with capacity for freight provided in the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade (TRU), but is seeking urgent confirmation that the freight element of TRU will include gauge clearance to the full ‘W12’ standard, not merely the much smaller ‘W8a’ gauge that has been proposed thus far.”
This route follows the line on the Manchester side out from Piccadilly to Ardwick, then turns North-East towards Greenfield, Saddleworth and Diggle, and the Standedge Tunnels under the Pennines, before entering West Yorkshire and the once prosperous mill town of Marsden. According to the latest plan for improvements in the northern rail network this will replace the now cancelled eastern leg of a high-speed rail line. No mention of any extension from Marsden to Huddersfield, the nearby centre of this part of West Yorkshire.
Back in 2000, the plans now being outlined also appeared in the Railtrack Network Management Statement, so it seems this is not a new idea, and the plan was then to include the W10 loading gauge clearance across the route.
Again, according to the CILT, the Trans Pennine Upgrade is vital from an environmental perspective:
“This is critical to reducing congestion on the M62 and M60 – for passenger traffic as well as freight – since up to 1000 HGV loads per day could be shifted onto rail, saving approximately 300,000 tonnes of C02 a year and freeing up the UK’s vital HGV driver resource for other journeys (the M62 is the third busiest road freight corridor in GB, with more than 7 million truck movements pa).”
The map of routes on the rail network that were either being upgraded to meet the essential W10/12 gauge shows some interesting plans, but it seems that today’s “Integrated Plan for Rail” has a lot of work to be done on the details.
One of the most telling comments made by the CILT is this:
Building a high-speed line to the East Midlands, upgrading of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and electrification of the Midland Main Line (MML) is welcome, but CILT believes inadequate provision for freight and logistics is made in the IRP and says urgent delivery of the following is needed:
Electrification of the key freight route from Peterborough to Doncaster via Lincoln, as this route provides the link from Felixstowe and London Gateway to businesses in Yorkshire and the North East, and there will very limited capacity for freight on the electrified 140mph ECML
Upgrading and electrification of the route from Northallerton to Teesside and Ferryhill (the Stillington route) to provide adequate capacity for freight to the North East and Scotland via the ECML
Electrification north from Corby to Doncaster and through the Hope Valley to complement electrification of the Midland Main Line from Kettering to Sheffield, which will enhance passenger services but do little or nothing for freight.
From the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, and for this particular route across the Pennines, this is what the Government say they will do:
“On Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), we will build a new high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire finishing east of the Standedge tunnels. In 2019, the Prime Minister promised to fund the Leeds-Manchester route of NPR. Of the three options for this section put forward by Transport for the North (TfN) at that time, we have chosen the first, a mix of newbuild line and upgrade via Huddersfield, and extended our commitment to Liverpool (giving 40 miles of new high speed line), and York. NPR trains will use fully electrified, expanded and upgraded conventional lines between Liverpool and Warrington, and from the east of Standedge tunnels to Leeds. Trains will run from Manchester to Leeds in 33 minutes, 22 minutes faster than now. We will also upgrade and electrify the line between Leeds and Bradford giving a non-stop journey time which could be as low as 12 minutes. We carefully examined the other options put forward by TfN, for full newbuild lines from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester and Bradford. They would have made Manchester- Leeds journeys only four minutes faster than the option we have chosen, and cost an extra £18 billion.”
On freight, as part of the TRU (Transpennine Route Upgrade), they are proposing upgrades to the section from Marsden into Huddersfield, after having built a new high-speed line from Warrington through the Standedge Tunnels to Marsden. So to suggest this is a major new proposal for this route is a misnomer, and only partially implements what was proposed 21 years ago. This is specifically what is written in the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands:
40 miles of new build high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire (to the east of Standedge tunnels);
upgraded and electrified conventional line for the rest of the route;
significant improvements to the previous Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) plans between Manchester and Leeds, including electrification of the whole route, digital signalling throughout, significantly longer sections of three and four-tracking, and gauge upgrades to allow intermodal container freight services. This will now form the first phase of NPR;
Last but not least, the map below is worth comparing with the 2001 map and proposals, and shows that there are still gaps in the major freight artery across the Pennines. And, no amount of increased pathways, or digital jiggery pokery will resolve the problem if a freight service moves from high speed to conventional lines after leaving the Standedge Tunnels.
The rest of the detail in the Government’s plans is in the attached file – short on detail perhaps – just click on the image below: