Leading figures from the rail industry have given their backing to a campaign to secure £1bn of rail improvements which would transform the North Wales and Cheshire economy and deliver 70,000 new jobs over 20 years.
The campaign – called Growth track 360 – is being led by a cross-border alliance of business, political and public sector leaders.
At an event held at the industry’s flagship conference, the National Rail Conference, senior figures said the investment was essential if the region was to fulfil its potential.
A delegation from the campaign, led by Cllr Samantha Dixon, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, and Ashley Rogers, Chairman of the North Wales Business Council, held a round table discussion with the industry leaders at the Birmingham conference.
Issues addressed during the debate included the importance of the proposed HS2 West Coast line having a fully integrated hub at Crewe to ensure connectivity with the region.
Cllr Dixon said after the event:
“We are making great progress in making our case for investment to the Governments in both London and Cardiff and have secured the support of a wide range of senior rail industry figures.
“We now have two immediate priorities. One is to ensure that our aspirations for potential service improvements are met through the new franchise agreement for Wales and the Borders and the second is that the emerging plan for HS2 ensures the whole of Cheshire and North Wales can connect to this transformational development through a new hub at Crewe, Cheshire, Warrington and North Wales.”
Mr Rogers said:
“The industry and Government are realising just how critical the Growth Track 360 improvements are to support the North Wales Mersey Dee economy and the very significant business growth opportunities we have, especially in the UK priority sectors of manufacturing and energy.”
Jim Steer, the former head of strategic planning at the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) in London and director of the UK’s leading rail consultancy group, Greenguage 21, said North Wales and Cheshire had huge economic potential which could only be realised with the right rail infrastructure and with proper connectivity to HS2 at Crewe.
He said the Growth Track campaign had achieved a huge amount since its launch but warned:
“There is no question that local buoyancy is at risk unless we can connect jobs with communities and strengthen business in the region, especially in light of Brexit.”
Julie Carrier, the High Speed Rail Programme Director for Systra, a world-leading public transport engineering company and former Director of Rail for Transport for the North, said the Growth Track campaign would have to overcome the tendency for rail infrastructure planning to be conducted in silos.
“Part of the campaign’s case must also be to focus on the huge job creation potential which arises directly from improvement work and we must remember that there are some relatively small improvements which can lead to significant benefits.”
Ian Prosser, the Chief Inspector of Railways for the Government’s Office of Rail and Road, said:
“Increasing the frequency of services can play a huge part in changing mind-sets and giving people the confidence and mobility to seek new educational and career opportunities.”
Sharon Hedges of Transport Focus, the UK’s national independent transport user watchdog, said the Growth Track campaign’s focus on economic benefits was the right one, adding that transport planners needed to recognise that connections across regions were just as important as North-South mainline connections.
The Growth Track 360 campaign is calling for:
- The doubling of frequency of trains between the North Wales Coast Line and Wrexham to Manchester through Chester
- Creating new services between Liverpool and Liverpool Airport to North Wales and Wrexham via Chester (Halton Curve)
- The electrification of the line from Crewe to North Wales so the region can be linked to HS2 and fast London trains can continue to Bangor and Holyhead
- Doubling journey frequency between Wrexham and Liverpool via Deeside and Bidston
- The investment in new, modern, better equipped rolling stock
Linked to the proposals would be improvements to stations to upgrade facilities and capacity and the creation of a smart ticketing system to make journey planning cheaper and easier. Also being sought is a new approach to franchises to improve services and upgrades to signalling and line speeds to enhance journey times.
The campaign is being driven by the North Wales and Mersey Dee Rail Task Force (NW&MD) and has the backing of the region’s eight local authorities, the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, the Mersey Dee Alliance, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, the North Wales Business Council and the West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce.