ASLEF Response - Integrated Rail Plan

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ASLEF's response to the UK Parliament Transport Committee's inquiry on the Integrated Rail Plan
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ASLEF's response to the UK Parliament Transport Committee's inquiry on the Integrated Rail Plan.

 

  1. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is the UK’s largest train driver’s union representing over 21,000 members in train operating companies and freight companies as well as London Underground and light rail systems.
  2. We are pleased to have the opportunity to provide evidence to the committee on this important issue. Rail investment is essential to improve connectivity, support the country’s economy and provide opportunities for work and leisure for people in every part of the UK.
  3. The UK Government in producing the Integrated Rail Plan launched it with fanfare and claims that this would be the key to ‘levelling up’ the Midlands and the North of England. Unfortunately the union believes the plan will fall short of this aim in several key areas.
  4. ASLEF welcomes investment in rail infrastructure and our ongoing campaign ‘Invest in Rail’ centres around bringing investment to the whole country so that everyone has access to high-quality, integrated, publicly-owned public transport.
  5. Overall the government’s plan focused on reducing travel times between key cities and from northern cities to London but failed to acknowledge that the travel times are not the priority issue for most people. The lack of connectivity at all between some towns and cities, and the problems with capacity on the East Coast Mainline and between northern cities and Manchester are far bigger issues, which ASLEF does not believe the plan addresses.

 

HS2

  1. The Integrated Rail Plan includes proposals to leave the northern section of HS2 incomplete, not to extend the high-speed rail link right up to Scotland, and for some money to be used by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to investigate the business case for extending HS2 to Leeds.
  2. ASLEF believes this decision is short sighted and will likely lead to further capacity problems rather than alleviating them.
  3. The government has claimed that by not completing the planned stages of HS2, it can ‘level up’ communities in the North by improving local rail links in the area instead. What this statement fails to mention is that many of the original Northern Powerhouse Rail plans relied on the completion of HS2 to be effective. Without capacity increases that can only come from brand new lines, there will still be congestion and other problems in the North and particularly North West of England.
  4. The Castlefield Corridor in Manchester is already so congested that there is a project in progress to try to resolve this issue. The government’s current proposals to solve the problem all involve cutting services. It is obvious that cutting rail services is not ‘levelling up’. Instead, the government must invest properly in infrastructure to ensure that more services can run between Northern cities, not fewer.
  5. Also affecting Manchester, the plan in the IRP for HS2 to finish at Manchester and for trains to ‘turn back’ there rather than going through and on to Leeds and beyond is also a concern. The original plans for HS2 included a underground station in Manchester which would add capacity without removing either above-ground infrastructure or further putting pressure on existing station infrastructure. The government has declared it too expensive to put this station in a tunnel for trains to go through, and is recommending the turnaround option instead. This option is less efficient, and less positive for the people of Manchester, and additionally may make it even more expensive and difficult to expand HS2 in the future as an entirely new station structure would be needed.

 

Speed and Capacity

  1. Parts of Britain’s rail network have been operating at or almost at capacity for some time. It is therefore a positive intention to increase capacity on the network. Some of the proposals in the IRP may improve capacity but ASLEF is concerned that there are other proposals which may end up reducing capacity.
  2. Railway lines operate safely by using a system of signals that keeps each train far enough behind the one in front that they won’t collide. On lines which are used by trains of different speeds, the gaps between trains need to be large enough to accommodate the speed of the fastest trains. This means that slower, local services on, for example, the West Coast Mainline, have to be further apart than they would if there weren’t faster long-distance trains running on the same track. The aim of HS2 is to put the very fastest trains on a totally separate track, which would mean that many more slower local trains could run on the existing tracks. By pushing for a faster links to London over the much-needed extra tracks, the Integrated Rail Plan is likely to not just fail to increase capacity but actually make the capacity problem worse.
  3. Freight trains are typically slower than passenger trains, as well as being longer and heavier, so in order to fit plenty of freight paths into the timetable, line capacity is vital. Any plans which increase speed but not capacity will therefore also have a negative impact on the amount of freight that can be moved by rail through these areas of the track. Increasing the use of rail freight, particularly for long distance journeys, is a key part of decarbonising transport across the country and that aim must not be compromised by the government’s wish to do something quickly rather than properly.

 

Northern Powerhouse Rail

  1. Northern leaders have stated that the original proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail, in tandem with HS2, were for the ‘bare minimum’ needed to bring rail in the north in line with the rest of the country (i.e. ‘levelling up’ as per the UK Government’s stated ambition). It is therefore extremely disappointing to see these plans scaled back and limited in several areas.
  2. While the union is sceptical of many of the plans, we are pleased that the Government has included pledges to electrify the lines linking cities in the North. Electrified rail is cleaner, greener and quicker so this will have a whole host of benefits for Northern communities.
  3. The original plans were intended to link up all the major cities and towns across the North of England to make it easier to travel between them for jobs, opportunities and leisure. Instead the IRP includes several piecemeal schemes which ASLEF does not believe will actually join up the North in the way originally intended.
  4. The plans in the IRP do not include upgrades from Manchester to Sheffield, or any upgrades between Hull and Leeds and Hull, Sheffield and Doncaster. This means communities East of the East Coast Main Line are essentially cut off from investment, as well as having lost the benefits that would have come from HS2 continuing through the East Riding of Yorkshire.

 

Timescales

  1. When the plan was announced, the government focused on the fanfare of reduced journey times, and gave specific completion dates for a small number of ‘quick win’ projects. ASLEF is concerned that several projects and upgrades listed in the plan did not come with timescales, and some were even outlined in language that suggests they may eventually be cancelled or never happen at all. It is therefore important that the government are held to account on not just delivering these plans but adapting them so they are truly fit for the future, and continuing to improve the railway rather than allow it to decline.

 

Conclusion

  1. Overall the plan is short sighted, offering quick fixes which might look good and be delivered imminently but won’t stand the test of time in terms of bringing about the railway fit for the twenty-first century that our country needs. Large scale infrastructure projects are expensive and take time, and it’s precisely for that reason that we must choose the right ones that will last many decades into the future.