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Rail: North Sheffield

19 min

When it comes to what rail connectivity means for Sheffield, city council chief executive John Mothersole doesn’t mince his words. “From our point of view, HS2 is vital but it’s not the only show in town. We need it but we also are focused on other issues as well. It’s dead simple,” he told crowds at the opulent Sheffield City Hall. “HS2 means a bigger economy, it’s jobs now and in the future, and it’s a Green New Deal.

“It’s a bigger economy through connectivity, particularly in that Golden Triangle between Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, with great connectivity down to Birmingham and into London as well. Elsewhere in Europe, when you do that it’s proven that you get growth. I think we should stop trying to prove that we’ll get growth, and just crack on and get it.”

The council backed up his call to crack on just weeks later when it announced new plans for the city region: the Integrated Rail Plan, setting out the vision for connecting the north through high-speed, conventional, and light rail. Key elements of the local plan include a new Midland Main Line station in Rotherham, as well as an East Coast Main Line railway station at Doncaster Sheffield Airport.

Former chief executive of Sheffield City Council, John Mothersole

At the first of two Rail: North events on this year’s calendar, the lasting message was just this: whilst HS2 will have the potential to flip the imbalance of the national economy to the northern city regions, there is still much more work to be done to enhance connectivity and attract investment into the local economies of the communities surrounding the likes of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, and Leeds.

Hosted in the almost century-old stunning Grade II listed City Hall, there was no better city to choose than Sheffield: burgeoning prosperity through its newly-announced integrated rail plan and connections to HS2 culminated in a night filled with some of the biggest suppliers and budget-holders in the industry networking and collaborating to provide a world-class transport system for its users.

HS2 is vital but it’s not the only show in town. We need it but we also are focused on other issues as well

Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) director, Tim Wood, attended and gave the evening’s lone keynote speech om what an NPR network would mean for productivity in the north: the region’s GVA will be boosted by 15%, equating to £100bn a year, as well as an influx of 850,000 extra jobs compared to what we have today.

Despite receiving connectivity to HS2, it could be said that the chosen route – to use conventional rail routes out of Sheffield to Chesterfield, where users can change and access high-speed routes from there – is not exactly ideal for the people of the Steel City. Mark Lynam, director of transport, housing, and infrastructure at the city council, said that despite HS2 being a big opportunity for the city, there’s “no getting away from the fact that it’s been a difficult issue” for the city region.

He commented: “The route that comes through Sheffield City Region is probably not the route any of our constituent local authorities would nationally have chosen, but I think the challenge for us is largely seeing beyond HS2 as an isolated infrastructure project. When you combine it with NPR, actually the catalytic effects HS2 and NPR will provide for Sheffield actually far out outweigh the benefits HS2 as a single isolated infrastructure project can bring.”

Industry-leading companies attended the event, eager to find out about the upcoming works in the Sheffield and South Yorkshire region. Rail: North was hosted in partnership with supporting partners including Network Rail, Transport for the North (TfN), Sheffield City Council and HS2; and corporate partners Mott MacDonald, The National College for High Speed Rail, AMCO Giffen, Linbrooke, Pfisterer, SNC-Lavalin Atkins, and the Hitachi/Bombardier HS2 joint venture. The remainder of the evening was brimming with enthralling conversation – including the two panel discussions during which the likes of the aforementioned Mothersole, strategic rail director for TfN David Hoggarth, and a commercial perspective from divisional director for Mott MacDonald Gregg Barton discussed what the supply chain can look for in upcoming projects.

Turn up and go

For the NPR director Tim Wood, the Sheffield City Region plan echoed the transformational impact a fully connected Northern Powerhouse can do to turbocharge communities and improve struggling local economies – where the region as a whole underproduces GVA behind the UK average by a staggering 18%.

Speaking to Quadrant Transport after the event, Tim outlined the effects a metro-style ‘turn up and go’ rail system, similar to that of global cities like London, New York, and Madrid, would have on boosting local northern economies. “When you’re down in London and you miss the tube train, you’re normally waiting two or three minutes for another one to come along,” Tim explained. “In the north in a metro-style system, we’re looking at a system whereby, if you’ve missed a train, another one will be coming in 10 minutes time.”


Northern Powerhouse Rail director Tim Wood

Tim continued to say that the undergirding message behind the metro-style proposals is all about bringing the economic centres within touching distance. Today, there are around two million people who can get to four to six of the major city regions within 90 minutes. With faster, longer, and more frequent trains on offer, that number can reach five times its current number, to 10 million people.

“So that allows that labour market to really expand and flex across the north of England, so the big businesses come up to the north, they can see the labour pool, they know it’s got capacity in there to move around the north quickly,” the NPR boss noted. “With cheaper land, and more competitive salaries, it’s going to help them set their businesses up to really grow quickly and for the south to benefit, because of course there will be a higher tax take affecting the better salaries to come with that as well – that is part of that rebalancing of the UK economy.”

Of course, Tim noted, HS2’s work will be crucial to the success of NPR, and if created correctly, could have ripple effects for rail users around the UK. “I think that part of important infrastructure [HS2] gives us that north-south connectivity, whereas NPR is the east-west connectivity in the main. The two work together, and I would absolutely call for having to have both,” he said.

With cheaper land, and more competitive salaries, it’s going to help them set their businesses up to really grow

“It gives us that real diversity in the system, but people never think about the railways a system; and it is a system – when you affect something in Penzance, you are going to affect a CrossCountry train that will end up in Edinburgh. That’s where the thinking about the railway holistically with TfN and tying up with our key partners and stakeholders in Scotland and in Wales, and down in The Midlands as well, that we build it right, we build it once, because it has a major impact building railway schemes on the travelling public every day.

“I think what’s really important is that in building NPR, as much as in building HS2, you’re looking at least 60-70% of SMEs involved on these programmes. For us, I think it is vitally important that the products and the manufacturing that we have in the north of England are able to help us construct this railway.”

British suppliers for British rail

Although the majority of funding for the £39bn NPR masterplan is yet to be confirmed – suppliers and buyers alike are awaiting the ever-elusive Comprehensive Spending Review, due later this year – new prime minister Boris Johnson reaffirmed support for the project in late July and announced a new high-speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds.

Global enterprises like Bechtel opening an office in Manchester and Hitachi boosting its factory output in Newton Aycliffe are clear indicators that the world is watching the north of the UK; and it is up to major projects like HS2 and NPR to utilise the British-made supply chain to entice global investment in a region that has been lacking in gusto for years.

I think it is vitally important that the products and the manufacturing that we have in the north of England are able to help us construct this railway

John Mothersole spoke of innovative British companies offering industry-leading-products and services in the north, including the likes of McLaren, based in Sheffield, achieving a £1bn turnover off the decision to manufacture its parts. When asked by an audience member why non-British equipment was being used for UK infrastructure projects, Mothersole & Wood argued future works with NPR and HS2 Phase 2b will look towards British-based SMEs for equipment, keeping cash in local communities.

“McLaren are manufacturing in Sheffield, and they made a make-or-buy decision; they decided to make what they currently buy. They’re here because they need to innovate a solution to the product that they wish to make, so innovation has brought them here,” the city council CEO explained.

“They are a company that’s in charge of its own horizons in some respects. I do think the point about giving some purchasing horizons are quite important; I think an approach that talks about the challenges we will be facing in this, allowing innovation to come to the fore, will more likely land the work in the UK and enable the UK to develop an international competitive edge.”

Mothersole noted that the city council’s track record of local spending on project is very high, with 68% of all spend allocated to local companies – and expects that to happen continue in the future. “The master plan is going to be a 10-year thing, it’s not going to be a single procurement exercise – but our intent is to design the solutions to what we want with the potential suppliers of the future, rather than tender smartly,” he said.

What HS2 can do

Of course, one the biggest known and lionised opportunities for the supply chain in the coming years will be Phases 2a and 2b of HS2. Members of the HS2 team were well represented during the Rail: North dinner, including Lorna Pimlott, director of Phase 2 partnership, and supply chain manager Robin Lapish. Lapish reaffirmed the project’s intentions to engage face-to-face with not just businesses in the north, but also local commerce chambers, LEPs, and growth hubs.

“The way that we want to make sure UK suppliers can benefit is by making sure they’re in the best possible position to be successful in bidding for work,” he continued.

“We do that through our early engagement programme. We’ve spent the last five years engaging with over 5000 suppliers, we’ve run over 100 events, and we want to communicate those requirements early so that there’s visibility upfront about what it is we’re looking to achieve, and provide that practical tangible information so that companies can go away and think about how they can best respond to those requirements; whether it be Health & safety, BIM, our environmental sustainable requirements, or whatever it may be.”

For Lorna Pimlott, HS2’s “hand in glove” strategy of aligning the teams of HS2 and NPR allows the two projects to achieve their full potential, and attracts attention and investment from companies looking to drive forward the northern region into the powerhouse it could be.

Our intent is to design the solutions to what we want with the potential suppliers of the future

“The opportunity is for the country,” she told the 450 attendees during the first panel discussion of the evening. “That is across all of the sectors that are investing in both of these projects, whether that’s from a resource perspective that we have the specialists globally in delivering high-speed projects. We get approached by international projects nearly every week, and that’s because they are watching us, and we are really putting ourselves on the map as a country that is prepared to invest, and is prepared to lead on how we should do this going forward.”

Clearly, then, if the industry is serious about building businesses into worldwide ambassadors for the UK, HS2 is a crucial cog in the machine. In a post-event interview, Quadrant Transport caught up with HS2 Phase 2b development area manager, Conrad Jones, to find out more about the international attraction towards HS2, and the economic potential it can give to enterprises around the north.

Conrad noted that members of the Czech parliament, government, and railway industry visited HS2 Ltd in preparation for investment in their railways. “They were especially interested to see how HS2 has been planned in co-operation with local regions to boost economic growth, city development and regeneration on the back of high-speed rail investment,” he added.

“We’re looking to build the best-possible railway possible for Britain, so it’s important for us to learn from other high-speed rail networks from around the world to understand how they maximised their investment in the new infrastructure.”

Prioritising procurement

We’ve heard plenty from the speakers about what trends, troubles, and tackling points are facing the rail industry in 2019; but what of the attendees? One of the resounding discussion topics for those in the room was the tempestuous issue of procurement. With many minds on the Williams Review due later this year, making a smart and transparent procurement system for suppliers must be a key feature if the currently senescent procurement process is to help major projects like HS2 and NPR achieve their potential.

This sentiment was echoed by the Railway Industry Association earlier this year in its submission to the Williams Review, which called for an intelligent procurement process, allowing businesses to plan ahead, rather than reacting to a batch of several tender openings at once; providing cost efficiencies to help both the passenger and the taxpayer. According to David Hoggarth, strategic planning director for TfN, the “short-termism” of rail franchises is what hamstrings long-term, sustainable funding in the rail industry.

“What we’re saying into tp Williams Review is we need to put the whole thing on a more sustainable long-term footing. We want a pipeline of investment through infrastructure and through services as well,” he explained.

“I think part of the problem for the supply chain, contractors, and TOCs is the short-termism of stop-start investment in the franchises. There tends to be a lot of investment in the first few years, for example, as everyone tries to get things in as quickly as possible, and then not much stuff in the back end.”

Sheffield City Hall

NPR Director Tim Wood agreed that SMEs and businesses along the supply chain in the north all want to get involved with the NPR programme – highlighting the recent Northern Powerhouse Partnership Ipsos MORI report claiming 99% of 5,000 businesses surveyed support the NPR scheme – however noted that over-budget projects like Crossrail have put rail on the “naughty step.”

By opening up those procurement routes, that also creates opportunity

He said: “We do tend to over-expend on a number of fairly sizeable schemes, things like Crossrail, things like Great Western. There’s been an awful lot of lessons learnt there. And we need those teachings to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes again.”

From the supply side of the debate, Mott MacDonald divisional director Gregg Barton argued that the sooner the supply chain can be opened up, the sooner British companies can come in and change the dynamic of the rail industry by bringing innovations to the market – something which the rail sector has not got access to at the moment.

He continued: “I’ve done work in a number of different sectors, and there’s a huge number of innovations going on around digital, looking at skills, looking at wellbeing and other pieces, and I think we’ve got to find another way of bringing those into the sector as well.

“By opening up those procurement routes, that also creates opportunity. If we don’t get behind that, and we don’t push, then we’re not creating the need ourselves.”

Effectively planning digital

At the tip of the iceberg of innovation in rail is the digital railway – and specifically what it can do to enable a first-class journey for passengers. As supply and maintenance procurement begins for the TransPennine Route Upgrade for ETCS Level 2, contractors were keen to know what budget-holders have planned for the digital railway in CP6.

For Siemens’ Justin Moss, co-chair of Northern Rail Industry Leaders and member of the second Q&A approach, a helicopter approach mapping out the demands made of the supply chain will be important to ensure the railway is digitised effectively. “We need to put the digitalisation route map of working out what we need from now all the way through,” he said. “There’s going to be elements that go all the way along.”

With cutting-edge technologies coming onto the conventional railway system infrastructure, how is it all going to come together to ensure passengers aren’t hampered by failures from 30, 40, even 50-year-old railway systems? This was the question of Tim Wood, whose NPR team have called for ETCS Level 2 on all northern routes.

He asked audience members: “Within the next 15 years, 50% of the signalling will need to be renewed in this country – and that’s just the conventional signalling. Can someone tell me where all of those people are to just do that, apart from digital?” Upon a silent response from the crowds, Wood noted the importance of “knitting in” new rolling stock on routes still using semaphore signalling and other deteriorating pieces of rail infrastructure.

The green railway

Carbon footprints, and using innovation to reduce them, was arguably the dominant topic of conversation during the evening. An inenarrable issue that requires a cross-industry co-ordinated approach to lower emissions, the impact of rail works and projects on the environment is now one of the staples of local authorities’ future ‘masterplans’ in transport.

As expected from all transport operators nowadays, HS2’s Robin Lapish said his organisation is tackling the issue through two aspects: the delivery of the railway and the operation of the railway.“In terms of the delivery of the railway, there are some challenging targets that we’re putting into our contracts, so we’re trying to achieve a 50% carbon whole-life reduction in our civil stations and systems contracts. That’s a big challenge to the supply chain in the delivery of those assets.

“Secondly and operationally, we’re looking at options for whether we can deliver low-carbon or zero-carbon electricity supply to the operational railway, in turn making HS2 zero-carbon during operation.” He added that HS2 is already looking into options, giving the supply chain opportunities to come forward with low-carbon solutions – but noted that HS2 is a low-carbon form of mobility in itself.

Ultimately, the commanding issue for the rail industry to master is the preference of travelling in cars as opposed to public transport – whether that be rail, bus, or tram. Sheffield City Region is facing challenges no different, with 70% of its population commuting into work on a daily basis via car. In response, the council’s Mark Lynam noted that the city region’s new transport strategy is fully aligned with Transport for the North’s Sustainable Transport Plan.

“One of the most striking issues within our transport strategy is the amount of people that use rail compared to other modes within the city region,” he said. “Actually, there’s more people using motorbikes to commute to work than actually use rail, which is a staggeringly poor statistic.

“I think when we’re talking about this decarbonisation agenda, obviously rail has a role to play in that, but when we’ve got a city region where 70% of the population commute on a daily basis via car, it puts it into perspective what a challenge it really is.”

For Tim Wood, components of the NPR programme like the electrification works on the majority of routes, and the nationwide phasing out of diesel trains on the network after 2040, are practices that need to be carried through by the industry. To combat climate change further, Tim said, the issue is “winning hearts and minds” of people to use transport – whether this be by selling transport on the value of a healthy environment, or a healthy society.

When we’ve got a city region where 70% of the population commute on a daily basis via car, it puts it into perspective what a challenge it really is

During the post-event interview, Tim outlined how the NPR programme fits into an active future of travel for the north: “What we’re trying to do is trying to open the capacity of that public network. So longer trains, more infrastructure out there, more stations out there that are able to accommodate these people. And also thinking about how active travel plays into that: how you walk or cycle to the station, whether you get your bike on the train or the tram.

“Just over 1% of people use the train, and there are many reasons behind it. What we’re trying to do is to make sure that with a new, really modern railway system with good-quality rolling stock – where you get your seat, you get your connectivity, you’re able to plug your device in, you can travel in comfort, and you arrive to your destination on time – we can build resilience into the network.”

The talking point of carbon emissions at Rail: North Sheffield was pertinent in requiring cross-industry collaboration to tackle the most pressing issues facing rail – a common feature throughout the evening. Whether it be collaboration between the supply chain, HS2, and NPR, to deliver an effective rail service to Northerners, through to opening up the supply chain to work with some of the most talented and innovative British companies to provide pioneering solutions, Rail: North Sheffield was yet another success on the rail calendar.