Transport for the North (TfN) is to reconvene its contingency planning group to help ‘tailor and protect’ rail services for essential users as demand falls under the new lockdown.
The North of England Contingency Group comprises representatives from local authorities across the region, the rail sector, and government.
TfN said that last March it played a key role in convening and chairing the group, which is now to to reform – ‘only this time on the back of a railway that has been performing well throughout the remainder of last year’.
Strategic rail director David Hoggarth said: ‘We will be working closely with our local authority partners and the rail industry and Department for Transport over the coming days and weeks to protect rail services for those who need them and to ensure we still have a viable railway when the pandemic is over.’
On Tuesday TfN’s Rail North Committee will hear an update on rail operations as well as plans for rail recovery ‘once the worst of the pandemic is over’.
TfN said members will hear that ‘although performance recently has been very good, it fluctuated as services were ramped back up demonstrating that the North’s rail network is still very fragile and needs investment with services tailored to maintain performance until that investment can be delivered’.
An Avanti West Coast train speeds through Lancashire
The sub-national transport body added that it will set out actions needed to ensure that the North’s railways remains sustainable and affordable in the long-term and members will be asked to consider a ‘Roadmap to Recovery’.
TfN will consider a plan to work with Government and industry on restoring confidence in rail use and introducing better ticketing to encourage people out of their cars and back onto rail.
Its five-year plan is based around six themes: recovery of demand and services; building confidence; improving performance; reforming fares and ticketing; encouraging sustainable growth and delivering an investment pipeline for rail.
For 2021 the focus will be on; refining the rail timetable; encouraging people back onto rail when the time is right (including targeting car drivers); rolling out flexi-season tickets for those travelling less than five days a week and piloting new ticket promotions; taking steps to better integrate rail with other modes of transport and developing a full pipeline for rail investment in the North.
Separately, TfN’s submission to the Union Connectivity Review says a joined-up plan for cross-border investment is ‘critical’ to improving connectivity between the nations and regions of the UK and will encourage trade and inward investment.
Interim strategy director Tim Foster said: ‘For too long transport has been under-funded and plans have been made in a fragmented way.
‘Through the Review we need Government to set out a holistic approach to transport investment that ensures a sustained pipeline of projects, chosen based on a joined-up approach that involves local and regional partners, to truly support the levelling up agenda and enhance connectivity across the United Kingdom.’
The TfN response to the review outlines 'six key opportunities' that TfN wants the Government to recognise:
- the 'vital importance' of Northern infrastructure investment in connecting Scotland, Wales and England – the North is unique in having direct surface and sea connections between all three countries
- 2021 must be a pivotal year for rail investment with clear commitment to the delivery of both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) in full through the Integrated Rail Plan
- a clear investment plan must be put in place for key road connections, particularly the key cross-border routes of the M6/M56 in the west, A1 in the east, and alternative Welsh border routes such as the A41, A51, A55, A550 and A5/A483
- cross-border freight opportunities – both east-west connections from Northern Ireland via Holyhead and Cairnryan, and north-south via the North West and North East
- the need to recognise the importance of different challenges among border communities
- the need to strengthen cross-border relationships. TfN said it has already developed close links with Transport Scotland and established a new forum covering strategic West and Wales issues