Transport in the North West: an ambitious programme

I was at an event in Manchester this morning that focused on transport infrastructure in Manchester and across the North. It was great to hear first-hand from Network Rail and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), two of the key players in turning aspiration and policy into infrastructure improvement.

Network Rail is planning to invest almost £2 billion across the region over the next five years. Martin Jurkowski, Project Sponsor for Network Rail’s Northern Hub works, made clear that they have been spurred on by the idea of the Northern Powerhouse, clear evidence that companies are following the Government’s lead. This includes work already underway at Victoria Station and Liverpool Lime Street;  the Ordsall Chord, the new line linking Piccadilly directly to Victoria; as well as the broader electrification of the railways in the region (about time, too).

There is also an ambitious programme of future works, with the redevelopment of Oxford Road station and the surrounding area in the heart of Manchester city centre, the improvement of trans-Pennine rail links and the enabling works for HS2. Not to be outdone, there will be plenty of spending at the other end of the Manchester Ship Canal, with new rolling stock, stations and lines planned for Merseyside.

TfGM is also focused on transformative spending, much of it intended to better link together public transport. The Local Growth Deal will mean new transport interchanges at Wigan, Ashton-under-Lyne and Stockport, joining the recently completed hubs in Oldham and Rochdale. TfGM is focused on working with the metropolitan boroughs to help deliver their projects, whether they or the local authority lead. The Trafford Park Metrolink extension will improve the links of the Trafford Centre and Old Trafford with Manchester city centre.

Devolution will undoubtedly have a major impact on the way we think about transport, with highways and bus market reforms bound into the devolution deal, along the lines of London model. There are 1.6 billion journeys undertaken in Greater Manchester each year, and congestion costs the city £1.3 billion annually, so strengthening transport links across the city and making travelling easier for residents will be a priority for political leaders anxious to make their mark.

The challenge will be in ensuring that the major works that result from the significant investment are explained properly to travellers and commuters, so that people understand the vision for the future, and not just the difficulties in the present. It’s something I’ll be experiencing first-hand over the summer, as my regular tram route to work is suspended for two months while the Metrolink stop in St Peter’s Square is upgraded. It was reassuring to hear both TfGM and Network Rail emphasise the importance of consultation, and of engaging with those who will find work disruptive, as well as those who will benefit. If you need to talk to people about a big project, and would like some help, get in touch: we’d be happy to come and talk with you.

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