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Rail North: What Does the Future of Rail Look Like?

4 min

After the annual Rail North Leeds Conference, Quadrant Transport highlights the core takeaways from the day and an exclusive insight into how the TRU is progressing and opportunities for the future. 

The action-packed day kicked off with an opening presentation from Martin Tugwell, CEO of TfN, addressing the core challenges in rail for Leeds and the whole of the North. The audience heard the clear vision for TfN and how to make the most opportunity out of the funding available post-IRP. 

Shortly after this keynote presentation, Rail North began its first-panel debate of the day, exploring collaboration and efficiency and making a case for rail as we rapidly approach CP7. We were joined by Lucy Jacques, head of policy at TfN and Tricia Williams, chief operating officer at Northern. Simon Middleton, regional director at AECOM and David Maddison, deputy chair at RIA North, took the panel’s first question. 

Delivering CP7 has Never Been More Important

When asked: “With the industry’s focus shifting to CP7, how do we ensure that our [Rails] voice is heard when making a case for funding and delivering the best value for money?” Simon explained the value of public messaging when making a case for funding, especially as rail is a heavily subsided industry. He addressed the audience: “The industry can struggle to articulate the benefits of any scheme and focus on how it can distil the key messages about schemes across the whole of the North.”

Echoing this sentiment, Tricia added: “As an industry, we need to explain in more detail the environmental, social, and economic value of rail schemes such as the TRU because we are a heavily subsidised industry. It is all about showcasing taxpayer value at Northen.” 

As these core issues were debated throughout the panel, conversations around collaboration, sharing best practice and working for the good of the sector continued in presentations from GCRE, E-Rail, and our networking sessions.

Social Value Dominates Planning Decisions 

Shortly afterwards, Rail North’s second panel of the day was underway, exploring the essential considerations around social value and why it is particularly important to improve this in Leeds and across the North. The panel was made of four guests, Jim Bell and Anne Parks from Arup, David Shepherd from Kirklees Council and Neil Holm, Programme Director at Network Rail. 

David encapsulated the approach that should be taken across the public sector by stating: “We are looking inward as an organisation as well as looking outward at what our partners can do when looking at our employment practices. Our primary objective is to ensure the DNA of our organisation can be more inclusive and how we can better engage with local communities.”

Following this, Jim explored how we can go one step further with a needs-based approach to social value across the industry. He said: “What we [Arup] would like to see is a needs-based approach to social value for the communities and target parts of society that will benefit from these projects the most.” 

We can create a long-term plan around putting the effort where it will have the biggest impact.

Building on the Arup narrative, Anne expressed: “Collaboration with the industry and community is really at the heart of delivering sustainable social value. I am really encouraged by the Leeds community anchor networks working with civic anchor networks to share best practice.” 

Neil Holm explained that from a Network Rail perspective: “One of the most important aspects is encouraging younger and local people to get involved. We have targets with all our supply chain partners to attract people from 15-40 miles, which are pretty ambitious.”

The TRU has a Unique Opportunity to Build a Business Case for the North

Returning for the TRU panel debate, Neil was joined by Hannah Lomas, principal programme sponsor, Anna Humphries, head of sustainability, and David Lawrence, head of engineering, all playing critical roles in the TRU. 

It’s more than an electrification programme; it is a multidisciplinary upgrade to the route.

Exploring where significant investment opportunities are along the TRU, Neil explained: “We will be investing heavily in the route between Huddersfield and Dewsbury, effectively transitioning from a two-track to a four-track railway. This will decrease journey times and improve reliability across the network.” 

Hannah presented past successes and delivered how finishing projects on time will build momentum for the rest of the upgrade. “Last year, we had a 16-day closure in Manchester while we upgraded parts of the track and signalling equipment. It was essential to finish this projection time. The success came from the excellent collaboration between Network Rail and the supply chain.”

Highlighting how social value is at the core of the TRU, Anna said: “TRU is a significant project, and the key objective is to make a ‘greener’ railway which will undoubtedly bring a lot of social value and economic benefits to the region. It is essential that we meet the potential projects like the TRU brings to the North.” 

The key takeaway from the day was that TRU has a unique opportunity to prove the business case for further developments across the North. To do this, it is essential to join up the broader government objectives of levelling up and net zero, regional DfT outcomes of building connectivity and confidence in the network, and the social value objectives of the TRU.