Northern Rail MD says North needs 30-year transport strategy

Alex Hynes. Pictured by Tony Johnson
Alex Hynes. Pictured by Tony Johnson
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THE HEAD of Northern Rail said the North of England needs a 30-year transport strategy to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality.

Managing director Alex Hynes told The Yorkshire Post that it is a “national tragedy” that the North has not had a region-wide smart ticketing scheme like Oyster card in London.

And he said Northern Rail services under the new £7.5bn franchise will be “unrecognisable” from those provided today and will drive the regional economy.

The Department for Transport is evaluating franchise bids from Holland’s Abellio, Germany’s Arriva and Govia, a joint venture between the UK-listed Go Ahead Group and France’s Keolis. It is set to announce the winner next month.

The winner will have to withdraw Pacer trains from traffic, buy and introduce new trains and refurbish existing ones, install high-speed wifi and invest £30m in stations.

It must also operate 200 more services a day from Mondays to Saturdays and bring in 300 extra services a day on Sundays, resulting in a 33 per cent increase in capacity between 2014 to 2019

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The best performing routes in the franchise - such as Ilkley to Leeds - will not meet the standard for the new franchise, said Mr Hynes.

In an interview, he said: “We know that historically the quality of rail journeys in the North of England has not kept pace with those down south... because the business case for enhancement is so difficult.

“Because the costs of operations are high and the fare box income is low... we require subsidy. Every time we expand the railway, the subsidy bill goes up so central Government hasn’t been dancing in the streets trying to expand capacity.

“When business cases for investment have been made, Crossrail, Thameslink and trains down south have always won.”

Mr Hynes, who at 38 is one of the rising stars of the British railway industry, has been in post for two years. He previously held roles at transport provider Go Ahead, the Government’s Office of Rail Regulation and global consultancy Halcrow.

He is a supporter of devolution and said the formation of Rail North, the new joint body representing 29 transport authorities from across the North, will provide a louder voice for the region in Westminster and better coordinate the services of operators Northern Rail and TransPennine Express.

Mr Hynes said: “When you speak and lobby with one voice, you are far more effective. Government finds it hard to ignore if everyone is saying the same thing.”

He added: “The economic output in the North of England is not great. If we are going to help rebalance the UK economy, we have to provide infrastructure, whether that is railways, roads, airports, ports, skills or education.”

Asked what it would take to make the Chancellor’s political concept a reality, he said: “We have got to sort smart ticketing out. It is a national tragedy that Londond did Oyster cards probably a decade ago and it has been phenomenally successful and now they have already moved on before we have even started doing smart travel in the North.

“There are pockets of smart travel within each of the public transport executive areas but people don’t travel respecting those boundaries. They want to get on a bus in West Yorkshire, go to Leeds station, take a train to Manchester and then get on a tram at the other end on one ticket. That’s what they do in London.”

He said “for some reason” the Department for Transport did not want franchise bidders to propose a smart card solution. He added: “As well as all the investment we will deliver through the franchise, we will be working with Transport for the North (the new statutory body) to try and make it happen because it is critical.”

Mr Hynes said long-term thinking is needed for roads, railways, ports and airports in the North. He added: “We have TransPennine electrification happening, to finish in the early 2020s, which is great, but we need a 30-year plan. Where are we going to go next?”

He was scathing about the lack of long-term planning in rail policies of successive Governments.

Alex Hynes said: “One of the reasons why Network Rail has struggled to deliver the TransPennine electrification is the planning, estimating and delivery has all been short term...

“We have gone in 10 years from deciding policy on UK rail was not to do any more electrification, to actually saying we do want to do electrification.

“It is no wonder the supply chain gets a bit confused and we don’t necessarily have the skills we need to deliver these major infrastructure projects. If you want a bigger, better railway, you have got to electrify it.”

OPINION: Northern Rail. New logos, but same third-world service