Transport for the North's new CEO Martin Tugwell on how the region can 'realise its potential'

Martin Tugwell has taken over as CEO of Transport for the North at a crucial time, as it looks to secure funds for two big rail projects. He spoke to Nathan Hyde.

The new chief executive of Transport for the North is confident he can help the North “realise its potential”.

Former engineer Martin Tugwell has over 20 years’ experience in transport and investment and his previous roles include deputy director of infrastructure planning at Oxfordshire County Council, programme director at England’s Economic Heartland, and president of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transport.

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Mr Tugwell has decided to take on a new challenge and he is now tasked with holding the Government to some of its bold ’levelling up’ promises and securing funding for a range of exciting projects, including Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Martin Tugwell

He said: “I just think it’s a fantastic opportunity, with the ambition and leadership from the political leaders on the Transport for the North board, but also from within the business community.

“There’s a clear sense of ambition and passion about realising the potential for the North, and that’s a hugely attractive opportunity.”

Transport for the North’s aim is to ‘improve the frequency, capacity, speed and resilience of the North’s transport system to make it easier for people and goods to move throughout the region’.

Mr Tugwell said the North has clearly been held behind by decades of underinvestment in its transport network.

But he is confident he can work with influential Northern leaders to secure the Government funding that is needed to make long-awaited improvements.

“If we compare what’s invested in the North with London for example, then London is getting about three times the total amount of investment that the North receives,” he said.

“It’s a reality that if you have the investment you can make the difference. We know that if you do make the investment in the North, you will get a fantastic return.”

One of the main projects Transport for the North is looking to secure investment for is the £43bn Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which promises to improve connectivity across the north by delivering new rail lines and upgrading existing infrastructure.

The plans would see journeys from Manchester to Leeds fall from 49 minutes to 40 minutes and Manchester to York from 74 to 62 minutes. And the number of trains between Leeds and Manchester would increase from six per hour to eight.

Officials say the investment would cut the number of minutes lost to delays in half and create 15 new opportunities for freight per day.

Campaigners also hope to have a station created in Bradford to link it to both Leeds and Manchester, a move its backers claim would create many jobs and see millions pumped into the economy.

But that project and the eastern leg of HS2, which is due to link Leeds to the West Midlands, cannot progress until the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan is published.

Transport for the North is urging the Government to publish the long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan, which is due to set out how major rail projects will be linked, as Northern Powerhouse Rail and the eastern leg of HS2 cannot progress until that has happened.

The Department for Transport has not revealed when the plan is going to be published – despite pressure from a number of Northern MPs, council leaders and mayors.

Transport for the North, which is urging the Government to publish the plan, said the delay has set back Northern Powerhouse Rail by at least a year, because it needs to review the document before finalising its business case for the project.

“It’s important to have that clarity from the Integrated Rail Plan sooner rather than later. We know that we won’t see it before September,” said Mr Tugwell.

“We’ve got a fair idea about what the scheme is going to look like. It might be frustrating that we haven’t gotten the Integrated Rail Plan, but there’s still a lot that we can do to lay the foundations so we can then move forward rapidly once we’ve got that clarity.”

He also said Transport for the North will continue to apply pressure on the Government, to ensure it provides the funding for Northern Powerhouse Rail and the eastern leg of HS2, instead of choosing to back one, as the two projects will be linked and they will drive further investment in the north.

During his time as chief executive, Mr Tugwell’s other priorities include working with train operators to improve services as passengers return after the pandemic, cutting carbon emissions in the transport sector, improving transport for freight and securing more devolved powers and funding.

“I’ve worked in regional structures before and the Government sometimes gets frustrated that the regions have a long wish list. Well the answer to that is give us a devolved budget,” he said.

“I’ve seen the political members of Transport for the North in action at board meetings, they are up for that leadership role and they are providing it as much as they possibly can.

“Let’s see the next stage coming forward where they have the responsibility of having the funding and prioritising that funding so that the choices are being made in the North for the North.”