Rail Franchise announcements must be the start of a rail revolution

Chamber of Commerce respond to new rail announcements

Posted by Paul Cherpeau

Head of Business Engagement & Communications at Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Wed 09th, Dec

The awarding of the Northern and Transpennine rail franchises to Arriva Trains Ltd and First Group has been greeted by much fanfare by the Department for Transport as the stimulus for the tangible delivery of Northern Powerhouse.

Amid all the talk about the rhetoric of the Chancellor’s pet project, the tangible delivery of infrastructure through improved transport connectivity is a fundamental one, without which the Powerhouse would remain merely a catchy tagline without the necessary substance.

Today’s announcements offers hope that Liverpool’s need for improved transport connectivity is being taken seriously. Throughout the stakeholder engagement process, which involved dialogue between the Chamber and all of the bidding companies for both franchises, the message was clear – more and better please.

The focus upon customer experience was paramount and it is notable that free wi-fi, comfort and passenger amenities are front and central in the DfT announcement. Increased capacity between Liverpool and Manchester is of paramount importance – it is not acceptable for business travellers to be piled high into pacer vehicles that were barely fit for the 20th century, let alone in 2015.

Good improvements have already been initiated by those in Northern Rail and TPE. The new franchise announcements pave the way for the operators to position rail as a genuinely aspirational form of travel for business and leisure passengers. It is no longer enough to simply make the trains run on time.

The bigger picture concerns the prospects for high speed connectivity for our city region via Northern Powerhouse Rail (or HS3 as it has been popularly reported).  Connecting Liverpool to the high speed rail network would be a game-changer that must be pursued rigorously with a clear business case that demonstrates the value of our city region to the Northern Powerhouse and the wider UK.

Other elements of the announcement to be considered are the connections to other areas in the city region. The lack of mention for Southport in the announcements, particularly concerning the quality and capacity of services to Manchester, is a concern. Developing North Sefton as ‘The Golf Coast’ is dependent upon better transport links and a vastly improved service to and from Manchester for Southport is crucial to the strategy for inbound and outbound passenger mobility.

Finally, it is great news that a direct service between Liverpool and Glasgow is set to be introduced in 2018. The historical links between both cities are indisputable and today’s geographical and demographical similarities merely reinforce the bond. Creating a more formal partnership between both cities would represent a positive move and the establishment of the direct rail link could be a great catalyst for such a move. 

The future of rail travel for the next decade has today been outlined. It must spark a rail revolution to genuinely fulfil its potential for Liverpool and our city region.

Share your views with us by emailing policy@liverpoolchamber.org.uk

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