New Integrated Rail Plan has implications for levelling up, net zero and data.
Announced 18 November 2021, the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) will see a total of 96 billion of investment in Britain's rail network. This includes the building of 3 new high-speed lines, improving rail services to and between the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West.
Key details of the new high-speed lines are as follows:
- Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), connecting Leeds and Manchester in 33 minutes, down from 55 minutes at present.
- HS2 East, running direct from central Nottingham to Birmingham in 26 minutes, down from 1 hour 14 minutes at present; and from Nottingham to London in 57 minutes. HS2 will also run from London to Sheffield in 1 hour 27 minutes.
- HS2 West, running from London to Manchester in 1 hour 11 minutes; and from Birmingham to Manchester in 41-51 minutes, compared to 1 hour 26 minutes today.
This new plan also includes the electrification of several existing lines.
- The complete electrification of the Midland Main Line from London to Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield.
- Full electrification and upgrate of the Transpennine Main Line between Manchester, Leeds and York, including full digital signalling.
- In total, electrification of more than 180 miles of route, meaning that 75% of the country's main lines will be electric.
This announcement can also be seen as a response of a common criticisms of the HS2 scheme; that all roads lead to London' and there is not enough emphasis on inter-regional connectivity. A 2019 report from the New Economics Foundation found that 40% of the benefits of the controversial project would go to London. This will have been on the mind of policy makers in the lead up to this announcement.
The new plan has its critics, however, with Labour MP Hilary Benn, representative of Leeds Central, saying that the new NPR line leaves the North betrayed, cutting out towns like Bradford in favour of direct high-speed services between larger metropolitan areas.
The IRP comes along with spending opportunities to improve local services in line with the HS2 and NPR arrival. 200 million of immediate funding has been made available for a new mass transit system for Leeds and West Yorkshire. This is expected to improve journey times between Bradford and Leeds significantly.
Fairs, ticketing, and retail reform, including the roll out of contactless pay-as-you-go' ticketing at commuter stations in the Midlands and North are proposed as a solution to ticket queues and confusion about fares. This is the start of a wider rollout of digital ticketing across the whole rail network.
The IRP is part of the Government's longstanding commitment to levelling up the UK. It aims to reduce the reliance on London for a robust economy and address the regional disparity in productivity. This is also part of a wider goal to improve the countries national productivity to compete with G7 nations. There is significant recent evidence linking the presence of reliable high-speed rail to regional economic growth, most notably in Eastern China.
The bolstering of N-S, E-W rail services was also advocated for as part of a pathway to Net Zero ahead of the Autumn Budget. This announcement will make domestic flights less desirable by providing faster rail alternatives, countering the cuts to domestic flight taxes which proved controversial ahead of COP26.
An improved regional rail network will also reduce car travel if executed correctly, reducing traffic congestion and air pollution for our largest cities. This ensures that the North can level up cleanly, bypassing the car driven growth characteristic of London, a phase that the capital is struggling to move on from.
Electrification of existing lines is an important step towards the phasing out of diesel trains by 2040, part of the Government's Net Zero strategy. This will help provide cleaner air in cities and in the train carriage environment, a concern of a recent Government review to ensure air quality standards alongside the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB).
The proposals on smart ticketing and digitalisation reforms are welcomed by techUK as setting the platform for a smarter rail network in the future. As well as improving passenger experience, digitalisation and the management of transport data can provide useful insights on how to improve services and make transport infrastructure more energy efficient. Data and smart transport are crucial to decarbonising in the growth process.