There has been two major announcements about electrification of railways in recent weeks.
In this article on the BBC, they lay out the twelve lines in the north that have been prioritised for electrification in the report of the North of England Electrification Task Force. They are in all parts of the North.
- Calder Valley
- Liverpool to Manchester via Warrington Central
- Southport/Kirkby to Salford Crescent
- Chester to Stockport
- Northallerton to Middlesbrough
- Leeds to York via Harrogate
- Selby to Hull
- Sheffield Meadowhall to Leeds via Barnsley/Castleford
- Bolton to Clitheroe
- Sheffield to Doncaster/Wakefield Westgate
- Hazel Grove to Buxton
- Warrington to Chester
If the project goes ahead soon after completion of the current electrification project in the North West, it will take another large step towards creating a modern electrified railway in the north.
Joining the electrification together on a map, shows that after it is all completed there will effectively be two major east-west routes that are fully electrified.
The Huddersfield Line will allow electric trains to run from Liverpool to Hull, York and Newcastle, via Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and Doncaster, with a choice of two routes between Liverpool and Manchester. After all the work is completed there will be six fast trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester.
I was surprised that one of my favourite rail lines, the Calder Valley Line was also prioritised for electrification along with all its branches. But according to their correct methodology the line scored highest of all lines considered in the report. It is very much a scenic line and I recently took it from Leeds to Manchester, as it wound its way over the Pennines and through towns, like Bradford, Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Rochdale. Electrification will speed the journey and add capacity to the route. It will be a good home for more of those refurbished Class 319 trains and will link Preston, Blackpool and Manchester in the east with Leeds in the east. But perhaps more importantly, it will bring faster electric trains to all those towns dotted across the Pennines. Only knowing the area from occasional football matches in places like Burnley, Blackburn and Barnsley, I would not try to quantify the economic benefits. But I have a feeling that those who made the predictions would have erred on the low side!
The other lines prioritised for electrification fall into two distinct groups.
The Western or Lancashire/Cheshire group is a set of extensions to the current North West Electrification radiating out of the Northern Hub and includes Liverpool to Manchester via Warrington Central, Southport/Kirkby to Salford Crescent, Chester to Stockport, Bolton to Clitheroe, Hazel Grove to Buxton and Warrington to Chester. It virtually leaves only a few smaller lines to be electrified in the area.
The Eastern group is generally a set of extensions off the East Coast Main Line or the soon-to-be electrified Midland Main Line and includes Northallerton to Middlesbrough, Leeds to York via Harrogate, Selby to Hull, Sheffield Meadowhall to Leeds via Barnsley/Castleford and Sheffield to Doncaster/Wakefield Westgate. As with the Western group, it leaves very few important lines that are not electrified.
Looking at all this electrification, I think it has all been very well-thought through and the Task Force has chosen well. If you look at the Tier Two and Three lines that will follow these twelve Tier One schemes, it certainly seems to have been touched by the hand of a good project manager, who has arranged the schemes so that the teams can efficiently do one after another.
There was also a report in Modern Railways entitled Felixstowe Wires Study, which contained the following.
Network Rail is to conduct a study into the possibility of wiring the busy cross-country freight route from the port to Birmingham, with the results feeding into its Initial Industry Plan for Control Period 6 (2019 to 2024), due to be announced in September 2016.
The Modern Railways report also talks about looking into the eastern end of the East West Rail Link, a new station at Addenbrookes and the possible reopening of the March to Wisbech branch.
Both the North of England and the East Anglian reports seem to be the sort of comprehensive and intelligently-written reports, that have been severely lacking in the last few decades from UK rail companies. The work being proposed seems to be lacking in any political vanity, but geared very much to commuting, leisure, freight and bringing investment and infrastructure to places that need it.
I can’t help feeling though that if you look at all of the electrification schemes proposed for the North, there is a very strong focus on leisure.
For instance, increased frequency, capacity and comfort on the Calder Valley Line, will help those commuting into Leeds and Manchester, but the line will also carry a large amount of all sorts of leisure traffic like walkers, shoppers and families just taking a scenic train ride. As a lady said to me, when I travelled from Leeds to Manchester last week, the train is so much easier than the M62.
This leisure focus continued with adding the Barrow to Carnforth, Settle to Carlisle, the Carlisle to Newcastle, York to Scarborough, Hull to Scarborough, Cumbrian Coast Line and a few others into the program. I never thought I’d ever see some of these lines ever mentioned with the e-word.
Quite frankly all of this electrification should have been planned and implemented years ago, so it’s very much a case of better late than never. The big irony, is that some of the British Rail built, nearly thirty-years-old, Class 319 trains, will be returning to the county of their creation to move tourists and business passengers all over Yorkshire and the rest of the North.
It looks to me, that if you’re interested in a job with a future, then they’ll be plenty of work in railway electrification for quite a few years.
Or you could open a quality B & B near to a picturesque station in the North!
As I had plenty of time to travel across the Pennines to get from Leeds to Manchester Victoria, I took the scenic route on the Calder Valley Line.
The line is slower than a direct train to Piccadilly, taking probably twenty minutes longer, but I sat in a comfortable Class 156 train across the table from several friendly;y passengers, watching the countryside go by.
By coincidence today this article on Modern Railways web site, entitled Calder Valley Tops Wires Wishlist was published.
It says that full electrification of the line is the top priority after the current electrification is completed.
After all, they’ve got to create some high-quality electric railways on which to run all those shiny refurbished Class 319 trains. Thirty years old they may be, but they have the heart and soul of someone at least ten years younger. And there are a battalion of eight-six of the trains, should the powers-that-be send them all to the North to dispatch a lot of Pacers to menial duties or the scrapyard.
The electrification will mean that four-car electric trains will be able to run from Leeds via Halifax, Hebden Bridge and the Todmorden Curve all the way to Manchester Victoria, Liverpool and Blackpool.
This train was waiting at Leeds.
I hope that the gluten-free offering gets better than East Coast’s non-existent one!
Kirkstall Forge station is currently being built on the line between Leeds and Bradford. I took this ratrher bad picture from a crowded train, as my train took me into Leeds.
The station is being built to serve the large residential and business development at Kirkstall Forge.
Surely, every large development needs to be connected properly to the local public transport system. This would appear to be a good example, which is good for everyone. The property developers must have a big selling point to their properties, as frequent electric trains will take people to nearby city centres and business districts. We must not commit the mistakes of the 1960s, where we built large new towns or estates, like Skelmersdale and Thamesmead without a rail or rapid transit connection
This map shows the development site at Kirkstall Forge in Leeds.
The site is being developed between the A65 and the River Aire and the Leeds to Bradford rail line in a £400million scheme. This is from the developer’s web site.
Kirkstall Forge will be transformed into a thriving mixed-use community in a wooded riverside setting. Ultimately it will deliver new homes, a high quality office park, shops, restaurants, a gym, crèche and other facilities. The scheme will create in the region of 2,400 new jobs, boosting the local economy by more than £5 million per year.
The DfT will provide a maximum of £10.3m towards the £16.9m needed to deliver railway stations on this site and at Apperley Bridge. The remaining 40% of the cost is made up of a local funding package comprising a private sector contribution of over £5m, supplemented by funding from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
Surely, this is the type of development that is good for everyone.
It will be interesting to know the extra return that developers get, by having a rail station in their plans. In London, a station is being provided at Barking Riverside for developments there, but stations in new developments seem to be fairly rare.
It is said by many in the regions of the UK, that London gets and eats all the pies.
At present there are four main rail projects on the go in London; Thameslink, Crossrail, the Northern Line Extension and the London Overground.
Thameslink is a government funded project, whereas Crossrail and the NLE are paid for wholly or in part by property developers and business.
The smaller Overgroundisation of London surface railways is more a methodology that is starting to be copied and expanded in places like Merseyside, the Cardiff Valleys and the West Midlands. Although you could argue that other railways in the UK have had the same idea of frequent clean and sometimes new trains, smart stations and good staffing levels, working for some time. Some of the stations on the Overground, have been or will be expanded, in conjunction with property development.
But other projects where co-operation between Network Rail, rail companies.local government and property developers are starting to be proposed and implemented, Often these projects are led by a major redevelopment of a station.
1. Leeds Station
Leeds station was rebuilt and extended a few years ago, but little use was made of the space above the station.
This Google Earth map shows the central location of the station and also its closeness to the main Trinity Shopping Centre at the top right of the map. Walking routes between the two are not good and the station should have been improved with development on the northern side to link it to the city centre. According to Wikipedia. future plans are in place to add much needed extra platforms and develop the south side of the station.
I believe, that you should walk out of a station into an open space, from where you can get your bearings of the city. This has been done well at London Kings Cross, Liverpool Lime Street, Huddersfield and Cardiff Central and some station rebuilding and expanding, is embracing such a concept.
2. Reading Station
Reading station has also been rebuilt and is surrounded by development, as this Google Earth map shows.
In the future it will be getting Crossrail,the new western link to Heathrow and probably more offices around the station. Network Rail, who now manage the station, have already created entrances on both sides of the station and I hope that development in the next few years, will make what is a spectacular station, a true gateway to the City.
3. Birmingham New Street
Birmingham New Street station is approaching the end of its rebuilding, which is now Gateway Plus. It includes a lot of retail including a new John Lewis. The station will also be connected to the Midland Metro. This Google Earth map shows the station and it’s surroundings.
It shows the problem that the station suffers, when compared to many. It is in a deep dark hole surrounded by busy roads, with the buses some way away. I don’t think you would design a station like that these days, as they did in the 1960s.
The station has a problem, as does Leeds, that there is not enough lines and platforms, but whereas at Leeds space is available, it would appear that at Birmingham New Street, it will be difficult to find.
The design of the station means that natural light on the platforms is difficult to provide. Hopefully, though by providing that light on the concourse and lots of lifts and escalators to get to the trains, the architects may have improved things. At present, it’s a bit like a bad Underground station experience arriving and departing at the station. One of the reasons, I generally travel between London and Birmingham by Chiltern Railways, is that Moor Street is a light and airy station, that has been tastefully updated for the modern age.
One of the biggest problems at New Street, is getting onward connections around the City Centre. On my visits to Birmingham, I often walk to Brindley Place to have a drink or lunch with friends. It’s not a difficult walk, but in a few years time, I’ll be able to do this sort of journey on the Midland Metro from the stop in Stephenson Street. When HS2 opens, this tram will be used as the connection between all four Birmingham city centre stations.
4. Manchester Victoria Station
The updating of Manchester Victoria station is the centrepiece of two big projects in Manchester; the Northern Hub and the extensions to the Manchester Metrolink like the Second City Crossing. This Google Earth map shows The station and the surrounding area.
This image is quite old and doesn’t show the new roof, but it does show the roof of Manchester Arena next door, how the tram lines call at the station, the nearby green space and the river. All the station needs now is completing, the Metrolink extensions and new electric train services to Liverpool, Preston, Blackpool, Bolton, Leeds, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull.
I would also personally, like to see an hourly service to the South and Euston, so that I can avoid, the mostly dreadful Piccadilly. This will be possible once the Ordsall Chord is opened, although some might say that it is a real pity, the Picc-Vic tunnel was never built. Perhaps Virgin will get permission to run a service to Huddersfield via both main Manchester stations.
5. Newcastle Station
Newcastle station is a station that I don’t remember as anything special from my last visit some yeas ago, although it is a Grade I Listed Building. But since then, several millions have been spent according to Wikipedia, mainly on internal and retail facilities and on opening up the area round the station. So perhaps I should pay the city a visit. This Google Earth image shows the unique position of the station.
It is high above the Tyne on the edge of the city centre and uniquely the station is on a curve. It must be a very difficult to add extra tracks and platforms, which seem to be needed, as both through and local services are going to increase significantly.
I have only given five major examples, but they show how stations are becoming the focus of development.
One of my manual searches on the Internet picked up this article on Modern Railways entitled Snow Hill ‘transformation’ plan. This is the first paragraph.
Birmingham City Council has released its Snow Hill Masterplan, which outlines plans to grow the business district surrounding the station and includes proposals for the ‘transformation’ of the station into a transport hub.
The Snow Hill Masterplan is here on the Birmingham Post website. Some of those who have commented don’t like it and they could be right. But the principles behind the plan of creating high quality offices, retail and apartments over a well-connected station is one that has been proven to work at Canary Wharf. After all it does actually make double use of the same piece of land. This is a Google Earth image of the Birmingham Snow station and its location.
You don’t see much of the actual station, as it is covered by a multi-story car park. As someone who can’t drive and manages well without a car, I can’t see why cities don’t do what London, Cambridge and Oxford have done and discourage people from driving in by providing top quality public transport.
The Snow Hill Masterplan would need an updated Midland Metro and also extra trains and routes through Snow Hill station.
I think that if I could get trains direct from Marylebone to Snow Hill, then that would be my preferred way of going. Snow Hill is in a much friendlier and welcoming part of the City than New Street.
I think on balance it is a good plan.
This morning Liverpool is hosting the start of the Tour of Britain.
It seems to me, that since being European Capital of Culture in 2008, Liverpool has received more of the large events, than it should have on the law of averages.
Perhaps, it’s just that the City is more efficient in attracting them!
On the other hand the Sea Odyssey of 2012, brought 800,000 people into the centre and had an economic impact of £32million.
So they know that events work.
It’ll be interesting to see the figures for the Tour de Yorkshire in Leeds and Sheffield.
That is the headline on the wrap around The Times today.
I do think that Yorkshire has shown how to do a Grand Depart. I suspect that Utrecht next year, will follow Yorkshire’s lead.
In some ways it’s all a bit sad, as there aren’t many events like the Tour de France, that can be used to build a great event around.
Yorkshire is apparently starting the Tour de Yorkshire, London has the Marathon, Liverpool the Grand National and Newcastle the Great North Run, so perhaps we ought to get our thinking caps on, to create some more iconic events.
Stations seem to be like buses. You wait for a new one for years and then they arrive in bunches.
I’ve read about a company called Xeros in The Times today. Their washing machines use 80% less water, 50% less energy and 50% less detergent.
The technology has been spun (?) out of Leeds University and uses special beads to clean the washing. They’re also talking about a washing machine with no programmes ( i.e. a man button!)
They’re not available for domestic use! Yet!
But if all machines in the UK were this efficient, then the water saved would fill twenty million swimming pools!