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Electrification of the coastal main line across north Wales between Crewe and Holyhead and further modernisation of the northern sections of the West Coast Main Line are among the key rail interventions recommended by Network Rail Chairman Sir Peter Hendy in his Union Connectivity Review, published on November 26.
The review was commissioned in October 2020 by the Westminster government to assess how transport links across the whole of the UK could be improved. An interim report was issued in March, which suggested that a UK Strategic Transport Network modelled on the European Union’s Trans-European Network for Transport could help to boost connectivity by focusing attention on the expansion and upgrading of strategic rail, road, sea and air connections between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The final report confirms that this would be known as UKNET.
Hendy makes a number of strategic recommendations that could help to underpin the UKNET concept. For rail, these include:
Domestic flights boost
Polling by Ipsos MORi commissioned for the review found a majority in favour of spending more on rail than roads.
The review also advises the government to expand the domestic aviation sector by backing a cut in air passenger duty, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his October 26 national budget, and by recommending that the government intervenes in the regulation of airport capacity to create more slots for domestic flights.
However, these recommendations are tempered by a caveat that they should only apply ‘where journeys are too long to be reasonably taken by road or rail’.
UKNET commitmentResponding to the publication of the review, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he particularly welcomed, and intended to accept, the UKNET concept as a basis for future progress.
‘If we want to truly level up the country then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between all corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places more quickly’, he added. ‘Sir Peter Hendy’s review is an inspiring vision for the future of transport, which we will now consider carefully. Determined to get to work right away, we will set up a strategic UK-wide transport network that can better serve the whole country with stronger sea, rail and road links.’
Rail industry responses
Photo: Tony Miles
The UK and Scottish governments are recommended to further assess the investment needs in the east coast transport corridor.
‘Improvements to cross-border rail services are a vote of confidence in the role train travel will play as a quick, easy and green way to get around the country’, said Andy Bagnall, Director-General of the Rail Delivery Group. ‘To maximise the benefits of the proposed improvements and get more people taking the train to travel across Britain, government should make long-distance rail fares simpler and limit the APD cut to routes where a journey cannot be made by train in less than 5 h.’
Railway Industry Association Chief Executive Darren Caplan added that his organisation welcomed the findings. ‘It is good to see mention of upgrade schemes, such as the West Coast Main Line and North Wales Coast Line electrification, as well as improving rail links in Northern Ireland, across the Midlands, and on the east coast of England’, he said. ‘All would help increase rail capacity in the UK, vital to providing sustainable transport options for millions of people and also freight in the future, and boosting long-term economic growth.’
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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