£1.2bn for train services a good start, but North needs billions more

THE £1.2bn investment planned for rail services across the North of England is a good start but the region 'absolutely' needs greater spending on infrastructure and skills, according to the incoming head of First TransPennine Express.

Leo Goodwin

Managing director Leo Goodwin said northern businesses must work together to continue to make the case for more investment.

He told The Yorkshire Post the combined investment of operators TPE and Northern Rail will provide “a huge shot in the arm for the North and it has got to welcomed”.

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The Yorkshire Post has long campaigned for greater investment in regional transport infrastructure and the Chancellor has put improved connectivity between cities at the heart of his Northern Powerhouse plan.

Mr Goodwin said the new franchises for TPE and Northern Rail, announced in December, mark “an important milestone”.

He added that Rail North, the new body representing 29 local transport authorities, played a key role in making the business case for the operators’ investment.

TPE is promising to invest £500m over the next four years. This will include 220 new inter-city carriages, which will be able to operate at speeds of up to 125mph, cutting journey times across the network. The new fleet will have 13m more seats a year once the investment plan completed.

TPE will also invest in digital and physical ticketing platforms, which Mr Goodwin said will help pave the way for smart ticketing across providers and geographies.

Mr Goodwin made the comments after an industry event hosted by TPE in York.

Other speakers included David Hoggarth, director of Rail North. He said: “Our vision is about creating world-class railway for the whole of the North for both passengers and businesses.

“What we are about is getting railway to help facilitate economic growth across the North and also be more effective and efficient in doing that.”

He said Rail North is “devolution in action” and aims to deliver more local management, join up decision making between different transport providers and capture extra investment.

Its long-term strategy is to increase connectivity, capacity, coherence and cost-effectiveness, he added.

Mr Hoggarth said the forthcoming franchises and electrification of route infrastructure are “just phase one of what we want to deliver across the North in terms of the Northern Powerhouse rail network... this is a continuum of investment and we want it all to work together”.

Mr Goodwin said: “We know that for the North to grow and thrive, we need a new plan and a new strategy...

“At the heart of this is looking at how we make the North function as a more coherent economic whole, how ideas, businesses, creativity flow around and exchange between our great towns and cities in a coherent way, much in the same way as occurs in the South.”

TPE, owned by the First Group, said the new franchise will increase connections between the largest cities by 55 per cent. Trains between Leeds and Manchester will increase to six an hour.