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Rail North Leeds: How Can The Industry Aid Recovery?

6 min

Rail North Leeds
After Peloton Events hosted the Rail North: Leeds 2022 dinner, Quadrant Transport highlights the key takeaways from leaders and decision-makers discussing rail infrastructure plans, priorities, and broader strategies to deliver a world-class transport network.

Rail North: Leeds 2022 saw industry leaders and stakeholders come together to discuss the upcoming plans and priorities for the railway of the North.

The maximum capacity event saw the first-panel discussion allow the audience to interact with these leaders from rail and discuss what we need to do to aid recovery.

Peloton Events were joined by David Hoggarth – Strategic Rail Director – TfN, David Horne – Managing Director – LNER, Matt Rice – Route Director – Network Rail, and Nick Donovan – Managing Director – Northern for the first-panel debate of the evening.

Becoming More Accessible Is Essential For Delivering To The Customer

David Horne began the debate by explaining that now more than ever, the rail industry needs to focus on its customers: “It is about recognising where we will be as an industry and where we underperformed at some of the complexity that we were putting our customers through, challenging some of the existing costs we were imposing on our customers and challenging ourselves to get some of that right.”

Panel Discussion With David Hoggarth – Strategic Rail Director – TfN, David Horne – Managing Director – LNER, Matt Rice – Route Director – Network Rail, and Nick Donovan – Managing Director – Northern
Rail North Leeds 2022 Panel Discussion

Matt added that to focus on customers, the industry needs to make rail more accessible: “If you want to use the railway, it is closed to most people. In many ways, it is not a particularly accessible environment, and Network Rail’s Leeds Station sits at the heart of it.”

I wouldn’t design the way it’s built currently, if I had my time again, sadly, I’m not sure we get to rebuild it, so I look around the room for people I think are in the building business to design, delivery and innovation.

The Industry Must Change To Accommodate The Change In Passenger Dynamics

When asked how companies are going to plan and strategise when the industry is currently polluted, Nick explained that many people in the industry want to see a positive change in rail: “There are officers and colleagues who worry about the future; there is a passion for the railway in this country, and I’m sure that will shine through. It needs transforming, but there is a passion for it.

“At Northern, we operate nearly 27 per cent of all the English stations. Only a third of those have got step-free access. The opportunity for activity is out there to correct over time, it is significant.”

The idea of planning was a constant, with David Thorne being asked for his perspective on the idea of budget planning and how the industry should go about it. He began by revealing that the question that the industry faces is will it continue to grow and see the growth in passenger usage that it’s seen in the past 25 years? He said: “If you take the last five to 10 years of British rail, essentially the use on the network didn’t grow.

“Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen usage more than doubled, which is true for the ECML, probably more so for some regional networks. We have got to think about whether we want to allow it to continue to grow and play a big part in society.”

Do we want it to play a big part in terms of decarbonisation and what do we need to change to drive that growth?

Another element David Thorne said the industry must tackle is how engineering work can be done at weekends to not disrupt passengers, as leisure customers are using the railway at weekends more than ever before: “We’re seeing 25 per cent more customers at weekends than we did before the pandemic.

“Yet weekends are when we choose to dig up the railways, so how do we change that? How do we do our renewal work? Do we do our work at a different time, to disrupt the customers less?”

Of course, we must deliver those works more cost-effectively as well so that is clear in the way that we have got to work together as a system.

Fares Becoming Cost-Efficient Is Important In Current Climate

Opening up to audience questions, how the cost of rail fares will be cheaper was debated. David Thorne took the question and expressed that the first step is recognising that dynamics have changed: “I think we’ve got to recognise that to some extent the dynamics have changed anyway, there are fewer customers travelling at peak time, they’ve now got far more choice than they used to.

“For example, we are seeing commuters choosing to travel in the off-peak period, after having done a zoom call or something first thing in the morning before they head off.

“So, we are having to adjust some of our pricing anyway to reflect the changing markets and we just find our customers are paying so much.”

Panel Discussion With David Hoggarth – Strategic Rail Director – TfN, David Horne – Managing Director – LNER, Matt Rice – Route Director – Network Rail, and Nick Donovan – Managing Director – Northern
Rail North Leeds 2022 Panel Discussion

Nick added that making fares more accessible is essential moving forward: “Fares are complex; the average fare for Northern is four pounds. So, it is quite a different market, with shorter journeys, and so on. The access to those fares is key.”

To make fares more accessible, Nick said that cost-efficient fares are essential: “Whenever I talk to people running the railway, I say you know that there are things that can be improved to make the railway more efficient, the use of money and doing things smarter.”

Not doing things harder but smarter and that is incumbent on all of us to do that, so it is a shift cost space.

Rail North: 2022

The next instalment of Rail North will be at the Royal Armouries Hotel, Leeds, on 20 October 2022, where critical figureheads from the North will be brought together to discuss the region’s ongoing priorities, including:

  • Transport for the North’s vision for strategic transport improvements and the role rail will play in this
  • Existing opportunities within the current framework
  • Key objectives to be delivered beyond CP6
  • Meeting our decarbonising goals through improvements to rolling stock and electrification
  • A complete understanding of the TRU programme.

With panel discussions, presentations, and specialist seminars, the event will be full of insights into levelling up the region and what steps are needed to address the North-South divide. The day will also allow the supply chain to re-connect with decision-makers and help reinforce commercial credentials for one of the UK’s most exciting projects.

Don’t miss out and register your interest here.