Martin Tugwell Transport for the North p Transport for the North

Martin Tugwell has been in post two years. Credit: via Transport for the North

TfN chief: Devolution key to improving railways

Transport for the North chief executive Martin Tugwell said empowerment, devolution, and investment are key to accessing the “huge economic prize” that a world-class Northern transport system could unlock. 

Speaking to Place North West at the Northern Transport Summit in Liverpool last Thursday, Tugwell discussed his hopes for the future of the North’s railways.

It is almost two years since Tugwell took over from Barry White as TfN boss. In that time, the organisation has seen its plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail pared back by the government, while public confidence in the railways has plummeted amid endless strikes and delays. 

Despite these setbacks, Tugwell was keen to impress that TfN is still battling. 

“If you want to get the transformation of the North, if you want to connect in the way that we need to do, then we’ve got to keep pushing for the full NPR as originally set out,” he said. 

Tugwell pointed to Leeds Station as one part of the network in need of immediate intervention. 

Behind Clapham and Birmingham New Street, Leeds is the source of the most delays on the country’s entire rail network, he said. 

“Finding a solution for Leeds station isn’t just for the North. It’s actually for the whole country.” 

“We know the gap with the rest of the country remains,” he said. “We have got to close that gap and that requires more investment.” 

That investment, Tugwell believes, should be given to local leaders and Metro Mayors to spend as they see fit to “build on the devolution and the empowerment that’s already happened”. 

In January, the North’s Metro Mayors called for Transpennine Express to be stripped of its franchise, saying it was not fit for purpose.  

In response, TPE said it had implemented a recovery plan to address issues around cancellations. 

Tugwell described the plan as “a step” but said: “we need to go faster and further”. Something devolution could help with. 

“It is fair to say that people’s confidence in our railway network is really low at the moment and I can understand that,” he said. 

“The disruption in the North is costing our economy something like about £8m pounds a week. This has been going on now for nearly a year; that is the best part of half a billion pounds of economic impact.” 

It cannot be left to the public sector alone to push for more investment in transport – the private sector also has a role to play, Tugwell said. 

“If you’ve got clarity on what the public sector contribution is, you can have a different conversation with the private sector. 

“You can start saying ‘here’s our contribution, that we know is going to unlock economic opportunities and that we know is going to regenerate areas, how can you work with us?’” 

One area where the private sector is getting involved is at Manchester Piccadilly, where there is an ongoing debate about what the city’s HS2 hub should look like. 

The government wants to build an above-ground terminus, while Manchester’s political and business leaders want to see an underground through-station. 

The underground option would cost more upfront but would greatly increase the economic potential of HS2’s arrival in Manchester, according to its advocates. 

Tugwell points to Kings Cross in London and Curzon Street in Birmingham as good examples of where public sector investment is acting as “a catalyst for a much wider confidence among the private sector”. 

In Manchester, not enough credit is being given to the opportunity to transform the area in and around Piccadilly, Tugwell said. 

“We need to make sure we’re capturing and understanding the scale of that opportunity, because it is a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation opportunity.” 

The Northern Transport Summit was successful in highlighting obstacles and potential solutions, but without a government willing to cede power and money to the cause, little is likely to change. 

This is not lost on Tugwell. 

“I’m always optimistic about things, but I don’t underestimate the challenge.” 

Your Comments

Read our comments policy

Tugwell hasn`t much to say about Liverpool and HS2.
My colleague was using Transpenine(TPE) on Friday, her train was cancelled at the last minute so she had to get an earlier one, that was held up in Leeds but continued to her destination arriving quite late. Yesterday going to London my train , 11.43am, was cancelled, and while waiting I observed there were no regular trains to Scotland, which was meant to be a TPE flagship. The services out of Lime Street are very poor and gone are the days when you could travel direct to all points from Liverpool, you would have thought now that electric wires are installed it would be economical to start many longer distance services from Liverpool.

By Anonymous

Apart from “running repairs” and a few miles of electric wires once a decade, nothing is invested in the rail network. Capital investment in new public infrastructure does nto happen the civil service and government ministers believe in “Marketism”. They truly believe that civic capital investment as “a waste of taxpayers money”. The talk about Northern Powerhouse etc. is just PR (propaganda). Has no body else noticed?

By James Yates

Devolution is not what is needed. 90% of the issues on the railway right now are because of meddling from unelected civil servants. The only reason TFN want devolution of the railways is so that they can justify the never ending amounts of taxpayers money that keeps being pumped into them so some top dogs can be paid silly sums of money to make statements like this.

By Anonymous

@anonymous you think that unelected civil servants are the cause of why Avanti and TPE can’t run a proper service? Lol

By Levelling Up Manager

Related Articles

Sign up to receive the Place Daily Briefing

Join more than 13,000 property professionals and receive your free daily round-up of built environment news direct to your inbox


Join more than 13,000 property professionals and sign up to receive your free daily round-up of built environment news direct to your inbox.

By subscribing, you are agreeing to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

"*" indicates required fields

Your Job Field*
Other regional Publications - select below