Hugh Chaplain

UK & Europe

Hugh has 31 years’ experience in the UK Rail Industry and broad transport consultancy experience. He recently led for the Rail North consortium on TransPennine and Northern franchising and was a major influence in transforming these franchises in preparation for potential devolution to Rail North. That project involved leading a team “embedded” within the DfT, making a strong and successful case for transformation of rail services across the North, including removal of the Pacer fleet of rail buses. The Rail North project is a major foundation for Transport for the North, in which Hugh played a highly significant and influential role. He has an extensive network of contacts across the transport industry and government at national and local levels.

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Transport connectivity and economic growth are both central to Transport for the North (TfN) and the likely approach to infrastructure that the newly devolved cities and city regions will take. Over the next decade leaders from across the Northern Powerhouse will look to make long overdue investment into the transport network across many parts of the region happen. All parties involved will have to work out collectively the key priorities for areas of transport investment, arguably a process is well underway already.

However, it’s with my experience of over 30 years in the rail sector and most of it based in the north of England, that I believe we need to take stock and review where there has been significant levels of underinvestment across the region before rushing off and setting out multiple new investment priorities. Carrying out this review will enable TfN and city leaders to truly create a holistic plan and approach to priorities for transport. At the core, this discussion needs to ensure we question why investment hasn’t happened in certain places previously. Was it because there were other priorities, was it because it would cost too much or was it because the return on investment was poor? Have things changed that now make this investment a viable option or can we look at how the scheme is assessed to ensure that the wider positive outcomes that could be created for a city and local area if the right level of investment is made form part of the decision making.

I believe a recent success story of targeted rail investment was connectivity between Leeds and Manchester. The route had previously lacked funding, so when money did become available the main focus of investment aimed at increasing the frequency of trains, capacity and reduced journey times between both cities. Once upgraded the number of trains was increased to five per hour creating wider positive knock on effects to the cities and surrounding areas. As a direct result, the North TransPennine route experienced a significant increase in demand for use of the service as frequency and capacity increased, impacting on wider employment and job opportunities, social mobility along with personal use of the service benefiting local businesses, entertainment and retail spaces.

So, what type of rail investment is required?

  • Reduce journey times, making it quicker and easier to work and socialise between cities
  • Increased capacity to run more and longer trains, leading to flexibility in movement of people, goods and services and a more reliable network
  • The introduction of technology and data to our networks to enable us to provide a better customer experience and journeys on all forms of transport

Returning to the example of connectivity between Manchester and Leeds, these two cities had previously been exposed to under investment on their network, but through targeted funds being used to plug this gap we’ve seen the multiplier effect come into force across local areas and people. It goes to show that when we take time, review where there has been a lack of funding the past, but the opportunity for growth still remains, we are able to make significant and positive changes to places, businesses and communities. It can also deliver benefits more quickly, while the more significant game-changing investments are developed. One big mistake we do not want to make as we embark on the long term Northern Powerhouse journey is to widen economic gaps, leaving people and places behind.

UK & Europe,

The North of England is made up of more than 70 shire district, metropolitan district and unitary authorities. Despite being geographic neighbours they have strong individual identities, there are many deep-rooted local rivalries and they all have their own locally-elected representatives. A successful Northern Powerhouse will rely on all of these authorities to work together as one, which given the preceding points might appear a tall order.

However, I believe that Rail North provides proof that the northern authorities can work together to achieve a common goal. Rail North is made up of the 29 City Region Combined Authorities and Local Transport Authorities covering the entire north of England. It paves the way for the Northern Powerhouse, transforming franchised rail services to meet the needs of the northern economy. This means more trains. It means longer trains, it means passengers benefiting from at least the same level of quality as those in other parts of the country. Rail North also provides an excellent model of collaborative working across Local Authorities and with DfT that other regions seeking devolution of transport services could certainly learn a great deal from.

Once the new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises start operations in April 2016, they will be managed by a formal partnership of Rail North and Department for Transport, the first of its kind. The Rail North/DfT Partnership is a stage in the transition from Central Government control of rail services to devolving their management and funding to the North of England.

In my view, one of Rail North and DfT’s most important achievements is to ensure the phasing out of the ageing fleet of low capacity, poor quality, bus bodied Pacers by 2020, which like the old ‘slam-door’ trains we used to see on network around London until the early millennium, should have no part to play on a modern railway. Passengers want rolling stock of sufficient quality, capacity, reliability and accessibility which will transform their experience of train travel. All other rolling stock that is retained must be refurbished to modern standards across all routes. This approach potentially paves the way for further transformation of regional services in future franchise competitions, including London Midland, where West Midlands Rail is working with DfT, and in Wales.

What I find particularly interesting about this is that the replacement of the Pacer fleet was not based on a traditional business case, which largely focuses on narrowly defined economic factors. The case was made on the basis of life expiry, passenger satisfaction and a future need for total fleet replacement .

Transformation of service levels, capacity and quality are committed. This is a huge leap forward from the previous Northern franchise let by the Strategic Rail Authority in 2004; that franchise assumed no demand growth and preserved a pattern of services that was no longer fit for the structural changes in the economy of the North that were already underway.

Without the involvement of Rail North and joint working across 29 Local Transport Authorities and DfT, a focus on subsidy reduction through cost savings and service cuts, rather than the economic growth stimulation based approach that underpins the current franchise competition, would have been the most likely approach. What is certain, as a result of Rail North’s role, is that passengers and the northern economy will gain significant benefits from additional services at weekends and evenings, additional peak capacity (+40% in Manchester) and improved quality. I hope it will also be a catalyst for northern authorities to continue to think beyond their local boundaries and collaborate to make the Northern Powerhouse concept a reality.

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