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NIC calls for evidence on rail needs of Midlands and North


18 April 2020

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is seeking views about the rail needs of the Midlands, North of England and cross-border routes into Scotland. 

The evidence will inform the NIC’s assessment that will, in turn, inform the Government’s  rail plan for the Midlands and the North. The Prime Minister announced the preparation of the plan alongside the decision to proceed with HS2 in February (LTT?21 Feb). 

The plan will consider the most effective scoping, phasing and sequencing of HS2 Phase 2b, Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), the Midlands Rail Hub projects and other rail investments in the area. 

The interaction between HS2, NPR, and the Midlands Connect rail plans was discussed by Doug Oakervee’s review of HS2 for the Government, which was also published in February. 

Oakervee said the current NPR proposal makes use of up to 69 miles of the proposed HS2 Phase 2b (Crewe-Manchester and West Midlands-West Yorkshire) routes. Meanwhile, Midlands Connect wants to make use of the eastern leg of HS2 for proposed Birmingham-Nottingham and Bedford-

Leeds services. HS2 will also release existing capacity in the Midlands, allowing local connectivity to be improved. This could benefit Midlands Connect’s Midlands Rail Hub proposals. 

Said Oakervee: “It is unlikely that an optimal solution providing maximum benefits to the Midlands and the North of England will be possible unless the various plans (NPR, Midlands Engine Rail and HS2) are developed in an integrated way.”

Discussing HS2 Phase 2b specifically, he recommended that the Hybrid Bill preparations be paused. “It would be worthwhile considering how best to break the current proposal down into parts and deliver sectors sequentially as they become ready ... integrated with the conventional rail network and with NPR and Midlands Engine Rail proposals.”

Oakervee also recommended  that the DfT consider reducing train frequencies on HS2 Phase 1 to 14 trains per hour, with passive provision for 16. 

One way in which this change could be achieved, he said, would be by deferring construction of the connection between HS2 Phase 2b and the existing railway at Church Fenton, east of Leeds. This would remove York and Newcastle from the HS2 network. “Analysis of this scenario indicates that, while there would be cost savings, benefits and revenues would also fall, although the overall impact on the benefit:cost ratio for the full HS2 network would be relatively small (a reduction ... of 0.1 to 0.2).” 

Questions, questions

The questions posed by the NIC in its call for evidence include: 

  • What potential investments should be in scope of the assessment? 
  • Which set of rail investments do you believe would, together, best unlock capacity within the Midlands and the North, and best improve connectivity? 
  • Which individual investment(s) should be the highest priority? 
  • What supporting policies need to be in place to deliver the benefits? 
  • What impact would the investments have on greenhouse gas emissions? 
  • What are the potential environmental effects (positive and negative) of the investments? 
  • What broader impacts on people’s quality of life could the investments have?
  • How would the costs and benefits of the investments be distributed economically, socially and geographically? 
  • Which set of investments would best improve rail connectivity with Scotland?
  • What would be the impact of the investments on international connectivity across the Midlands and the North? 

The call for evidence closes on 29 May.

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