Liverpool city region bosses asked to endorse rail strategy

Merseytravel’s updated long term rail strategy will be presented to the Liverpool City Region’s transport committee this week for approval.

The update considers how projects might be prioritised, taking into account developments at national and regional level since the initial strategy was produced in 2014, such as HS2 and the progress of the Northern Powerhouse Rail concept.

The overall objective of the strategy is ensuring that the rail network meets the region’s needs over the next 30 years and beyond, giving it an evidence base from which to start when competing for funding at national level.

Of pressing importance is the capacity challenge at Liverpool Central station and the significance of that station in relation to developments on the Merseyrail and wider network.

With 16m passengers using it every year, Central is close to capacity, and Merseytravel has started a development review to better understand the impact of expected growth and the potential impact of suppressed demand once new rolling stock is ready from 2021.

The body said that, while it notes the “freedoms” of devolution deal funding, early work on exploring options for Liverpool Central’s overhaul will have to come from the Single Investment Fund. Options for development will be looked at before a business case is submitted to central government. It is expected that the upgrade project will happen within 10 years.

So key is Liverpool Central that programmes are now being divided into distinct groupings of whether they are linked to the station or not. In addition, the council, Network Rail and developer Augur are working together to see how its expansion will dovetail with plans for the Circus site.

Merseytravel’s update highlights progress made over the last three years with projects either delivered, or in the process of being delivered, including the Halton Curve upgrade, a new station at Maghull North, a station upgrade at Newton-le-Willows – all due for completion by June 2018 – commitment for a new rolling stock fleet and the redevelopment of Liverpool Lime Street.

Cllr Liam Robinson, chairman of the Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: “It’s important that we are realistic about our long term rail aspirations and our ambitious plans to provide an improved network for the future, meeting passenger needs and boosting economic opportunity.

“Whilst we already enjoy good levels of service there is more that we can do to provide increased capacity and frequencies, which would support projected economic growth and maximise the economic benefits of the city region’s assets and potential.”

In the conclusion of the report, Meseytravel director-general Frank Rogers said: “In order to achieve economic growth and to deliver the rail priorities set out for endorsement, there needs to be recognition of the immediate and ongoing development funding needs and commitment by the City Region to support that development.”

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