Decades of funding cuts to northern rail networks must be reversed if the region is to maximise the benefits of economic growth, a study claims.
Written by Greengauge 21 and published by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), the report has slammed the ‘unfair’ treatment of the Northern Rail franchise in national policy making, arguing the region has not seen the same rolling stock upgrades witnessed on its southern counterparts.
Demanding radical changes to what it branded a ‘confusing’ fare system on northern services, the Stepping Stones report appealed for the introduction of a zonal structure similar to that seen in London and an end to evening peak tickets.
Campaigners pushed for creation of a clearer network to link cities in England’s north and the scrapping of diesel Pacer carriages.
Calls were also raised for greater devolution of control over the network, which could act as a springboard to the creation of a body with full responsibility for public transport - such as Transport for London and Transport Scotland.
The calls come after the formation of Rail North - a consortium of local authorities - and its partnership with the Department for Transport in 2013 to help oversee the franchising of the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises. It also comes after the Transport for the North group met for the first time to draw up a long-term connectivity plan for the region.
The report came as think tank The Centre for Cities warned the north-south divide had increased since 2004, with fears raised of an ‘enormous gap’ emerging between urban areas.
CBT said investment in northern rail services would be ‘integral’ if such a split was to be countered. The group said claims Northern’s fare rises would fund improved stock were ‘out of kilter’ with approaches applied in the South and warned 87% of the Northern Rail fleet was expected to need refurbishment or replacement by 2020.
Investment in the Northern Hub and electrification could be undermined by another ‘minimum cost’ Northern Rail franchise, with greater funding bringing widespread benefits for regeneration, sustainability and employment – the groups added.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of CBT, said: ‘The north’s rail network has been getting a raw deal for decades. This new research shows that major investment is not only long overdue, but is essential if we're to tackle the north south divide.
‘All eyes are on the Government. They must use the new franchises for Northern Rail and TransPennine Express to get rid of outdated rolling stock, improve stations and make sure their are enough seat to cope with demand.’
Responding to the report, a Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘These franchises will see the phasing out of the outdated Pacer trains, additional services across the region, faster journeys on some of the busiest routes and station upgrades.
‘They will put passengers at the heart of the rail network and help close the economic gap between north and south.’