Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Trans-Pennine electrification and Crossrail North

I feel that I should begin this post with a disclaimer as I know investment in the North is a contentious issue, however I do believe there needs to be some balance brought to the debate. So to begin, I am based in the North and I wholeheartedly agree that at the very least the Trans-Pennine rail route between Manchester, Leeds, York and Selby should be electrified, in addition the government should be investigating options for a new Trans-Pennine rail route.

However, with no decision yet made regarding electrification other than to say it has not been cancelled (to date Aug 2017), I feel I should point out that electrification is just one part of the project to upgrade east-west rail links otherwise known (currently) as the Great Northern Rail Project.

The only 2 statements from the government which provides any indication of their position on electrification are the following:

"Major upgrades to the Manchester – Leeds – York route are currently being designed and developed, to enable us to deliver better journeys for passengers from 2022", DfT spokesperson told Railway Gazette 24th of July 2017.


If there are bits of the TransPennine network that are complicated to do and we have a bi-mode train, we can say: ‘Here is a section we can have a diesel.’ We will be electrifying TransPennine but we can do it in a smarter way" Chris Grayling Financial Times 21st of July 2017.

I have already covered the cancellation of Swansea - Cardiff and MML electrification in detail, which helps to explain some of the reasons why it is not possible to simply throw money at a project. Instead this post will focus on the Trans-Pennine route, the challenges ahead and what is being done to improve services. I will also examine the differences between Trans-Pennine links and potential investment in Crossrail 2

New Trains

First of all, there are big changes on the way for both Northern and TransPennine Express which will vastly improve services for passengers without the need for further electrification.

Northern will begin to introduce brand new diesel and electric trains from Dec 2019 and in the meantime will introduce 8 "Flex" bi-mode trains converted from electric class 319s to diesel-electric class 769s. The new Flex trains will be able to operate solely on electric power on the parts of the network already electrified, but will also be able to operate off of the electrified network to places such as Windermere.

Northern already has 20 electric class 319s in service, operating between, Liverpool, Manchester and Preston and from May 2018 will be in operation between Preston and Blackpool. 

TransPennine Express have already begun to fully refurbish their fleet of 51 class 185 trains which will feature plug and USB sockets at each pair of seats, bigger tables, refitted toilets, wifi and LED lighting.

From 2018 brand new five car trains will be introduced to operate between Liverpool, Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds, York, Scarborough and Newcastle. From 2019 the new trains will also begin operating to Middlesbrough. 

New trains will also allow the introduction of direct links between Liverpool and Glasgow from 2018. In addition from 2019 the Liverpool to Newcastle service will be extended to Edinburgh.

Between 2018 and 2020 a total of 44 brand new trains will be introduced on the TransPennine Express network which will provide 20,000 addition peak time seats per day.

Infrastructure upgrades

To facilitate new services and increased capacity Network Rail have already been busy upgrading the Network between Liverpool - Manchester and Leeds. The projects listed below are just some of the key improvements that are underway, planned or already complete.

The projects listed below are ones that are underway, completed or planned and will provide tangible benefits for passengers. I have tried to focus on upgrades that will improve capacity and or journey times rather than just like for like renewals.
  • Liverpool Lime Street Improvement Programme is part of a £340m package of upgrades and renewals across the Liverpool City Region. This complex phase will be vital in order improve capacity and service reliability. Once complete the upgrade will allow for 3 new services an hour to operate from the station.
  • Huyton Roby 4th track will be complete later this year and will allow intercity services to overtake local stopping services along the route which will improve journey times between Liverpool and key northern towns.
  • Weaver to Wavertree re-signalling works will take place over the summer and will result in improved reliability.
  • Halton Curve which will be complete by Dec 2018 will allow new services to operate initially between Chester and Liverpool Lime St via Helsby, Frodsham, Runcorn, Liverpool South Parkway. In the future it is hoped that services will be extended to serve North Wales.
  • Ordsall Chord will connect Manchester Victoria and Piccadilly stations for the first time. The new chord will allow direct trains to operate between Manchester Airport and the North of England and will reduce congestion at Manchester Piccadilly.
  • Calder Valley upgrade phase 1 which was completed in 2016 saw the renewal of track and signalling between Manchester Victoria and Littleborough which will lead to improved journey times and reliability. In December 2016 a new bay platform at Bradford was also delivered, the new platform removed a conflict between trains to and from Manchester and other onward services.
  • Phase 2 will see further renewals of track and signalling between Littleborough and Bradford Interchange. The upgrade once complete will "paving the way for faster journeys between Manchester Victoria and Bradford interchange" Network Rail
  • North West electrification which has already transformed journeys between Liverpool - Manchester and Scotland will be fully completed in early 2018 when the final section between Preston and Blackpool is finished. The £300m project has increase capacity and reliability between Liverpool and Manchester and between Manchester and Scotland. 
Smaller renewal projects, upgrades and vegetation management schemes are underway across the Network with some work already underway or planned to support future electrification of the Pennine route,  

The problem with new rolling stock and rail upgrades is that they take time to be delivered. New franchises for Northern and Transpennine Express were let in April 2016, yet passengers will not begin to benefit from New trains until 2018. Until the new trains arrive passengers will not fully benefit from work being undertaken by Network Rail, so it is easy for passengers to feel as though nothing is being done to improve services, which is far from the truth.

Crossrail North ("HS3", "Northern Powerhouse Rail")

People in the North have always felt as if we get a rough deal when it comes to transport investment, a feeling which has been recently exacerbated with growing uncertain about Trans-Pennine electrification and the Transport Sectary's apparent support for Crossrail 2, although the project has yet to gain funding.

Having followed a number of projects in the North recently I can't say I fully support the view that we are hard done to, however I know that if the North is to grow and thrive east-west rail links must be improved and believe that proposals for a new line should be explored in detail.

In order to examine the potential causes for the discrepancy between spending in the North and in London I have explored 3 potential proposals for Crossrail North (CRN) and compared them with the proposals for Crossrail 2. In order to do this I have estimated distances for CRN and CR2 so that they may be compared.

As we do not yet know what a "Crossrail North" would look like I have calculated some approximate distances for 3 potential routes.

  • Liverpool to the ECML at the junction with the Leeds and Selby railway via Manchester, Halifax, Bradford and Leeds. Potential distance 135km with 25-30km of mountainous or hilly terrain.
  • Liverpool to the ECML at the junction with the Leeds and Selby railway via Manchester, Huddersfield and Leeds. Potential distance 125km with 20-25km of mountainous or hilly terrain.
  • Manchester West to a junction with HS2 North of Garforth via Leeds, bypassing Halifax, Huddersfield and Bradford. Potential distance 72km with 25-30km of mountainous or hilly terrain.
A true east-west railway should span from Liverpool to Hull, a distance of approximately 190km, this could include new sections of track, upgrades to the existing infrastructure and further electrification. E-W journey times could potentially be improved with infrastructure improvements between Manchester and Leeds, but would people living in Liverpool and Hull argue that they are missing out on investment in favour of Manchester and Leeds?

Would CRN have to be a high-speed line (say 200 to 225 km/h)? With a potential line distance of 60km or more between Manchester and Leeds, trains would have to travel at an average speed of 120km/h non-stop to achieve the 30 minute journey time which IPPR are campaigning for.

120km/h (75mph) is easily achievable however that is simply the average speed and does not factor in acceleration or additional stops at or close to Halifax, Huddersfield or Bradford. The terrain between Manchester and Leeds is also challenging which could require sections of track with a maxim speed lower than 120km/h.

IPPR North currently has a petition running calling for "More money for transport in the North", whilst I do not fully support the Crossrail 2 vs Crossrail North argument I would urge people to show support for improved transport in the North.

Crossrail 2

The route from Broxbourne to Epsom and Shepperton would be approximately 60km in length with approximately 30km of tunnelling underneath central London between Tottenham Hale and Wimbledon with a spur between Severn Sister and Alexandra Palace. The tunneled sections would constitute the only genuinely new sections of railway that would be constructed. As with the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) the above ground sections of the line would use existing lines, with upgrades, renewals and improved stations. 

The estimated cost for CR2 is said to be £30bn of which 50% would be paid for by London itself through fares and by other means.

CR2 if built to the same standard as the Elizabeth Line would have a maximum speed of 140km/h and be designed to handle 24 trains per hour.


It is difficult to compare CR2 and CRN as they are completely different types of railway, CRN would be a regional railway linking distant population centres spanning 180km, whereas CR2 connects suburban lines through a densely populated region to central London spanning just 50km

Looking at population and GVA (Gross Value Added) of the North vs London also demonstrates difficulty in comparing CR2 to CRN.

The combined GVA of the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber regions combined in 2015 was £316bn, whereas the GVA for London alone was £378bn, generating 22% of the UK's entire wealth.

At first glance, the £316bn generated by the North seems comparable to the £378bn generated by London, but when you compare the "North" as described above which spans an area of 37,000 km² compared with London just 1,500 km² you see that providing transport connectivity over such a large area is not straight forward. Building a "Crossrail North" on its own would not unlock the potential of the North as a whole.

If we look at population spread also, we find that combined population of the 6 city regions spanning 180km east to west which could potentially benefit from improved east-west links has a combined population of 8.4m, whilst the population of Greater London spanning just 50km north to south is 8.5m.


Can a satisfactory conclusion be drawn from all this? It's difficult to say, but I do know that whilst investment is vital, simply securing funding is only the beginning. As we have witnessed with electrification, providing fully costed proposals, robust plans and the skilled workforce required are the first hurdles to overcome before work can begin. Construction of course brings its own set of challenges and if not planned correctly can fall foul of unforeseen complications which can add to the cost and delay completion.

Would the £59 billion ‘catch-up cash’ demanded by IPPR North solve all of the North's transport problems? That all depends on how it is spent and over what period, it is all well and good having funding available, but are there £59bn worth of costed 'shovel ready' transport proposals in the pipeline and is there a large enough skilled workforce available to undertake the work? 

Perhaps as the Glasgow-Edinburgh and GWML electrification programmes come to an end the government can reassess its position on electrification and which lines to prioritise next. I doubt Network rail will want its new multi million point electrification trains sitting idle once the GWML is complete.

The only thing that I feel certain of is that improving transport links in the North will not be simple and any comparison between spending on improvements in the North vs investment in Crossrail 2 are unproductive.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook - For more information e-mail


Leed City Region - 3m

Huddersfield - 146,000
Liverpool City Region - 1.5m
Greater Manchester - 2.8
Hull - 850,000
Halifax - 90,000


Greater London 8.5m

GVA and area 

North East 14,165km² 49.6bn 

North West 8,592 km² £156.8bn
Yorkshire and Humber 15,420 km² £109.7

37,000 sq km £316.1bn

London 1,569 sq km £378.4bn

No comments:

Post a comment