What’s next for Transport & Infrastructure in our region?

Friday, 11th October 2019

Blog by pro-manchester Sector Group Manager, Ilona Alcock

On Thursday 10th October, pro-manchester welcomed leading industry professionals to a sold-out Transport & Infrastructure Lunch at the beautiful King Street Townhouse.

Jenn Hazlehurst, Chair of pro-manchester, opened the event and praised the Transport & Infrastructure sector committee for running an active and engaging programme of events, covering topics including clean air, electric vehicles and the potential economic impact of HS2.  Jenn noted the success of the group was due in no small part to the commitment and dedication of the Transport & Infrastructure committee chair, Adam Richmond of CPC Project Services, and handed over to him to host the event.

Adam opened by reminding delegates that the event falls on World Mental Health Day and read a quote from Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive. He encouraged attendees to continue the conversation and speak to specialist charities, such as Samaritans or CALM.

“CPC Project Services are proud to sponsor the event,” Adam said. “We are keen to knit ourselves into the Manchester community. The transport sector is very busy in the region with developments in bus franchising, Metrolink and a recent rail consultation. These developments come with challenges including congestion and air quality.”

Adam introduced the speakers for the day and explained they would give a five-minute update each and return for a Q&A session after lunch.

  • Ian Palmer – Transport for Greater Manchester
  • Samantha Carty – Manchester Airport
  • Raj Chandarana – Northern
  • Tim Gamon – Highways England
  • Anna-Jane Hunter – Network Rail

Ian explained that in his role at TfGM he is always looking to the future and to plan for the next big thing. Whilst there is plenty going on, the world is still changing with devolution and the new GM Mayor role. Ian noted that he has brought greater focus on the industry and future strategy.

Manchester Airport is undergoing a £1bn transformation programme, predominantly focused on doubling the size of Terminal 2 and improving all aspects of the experience. Alongside this, a new private terminal (Premair) and educational facility (Aerozone) are being developed.

Sam also shared updates on the infrastructure people can’t see: the motorway network in the sky. The routes currently rely on ground-based technology and have not been updated since the 1960s. This two-year programme will move to satellite navigation, improving efficiency, noise levels and emissions.

Highways England work in five-year funding cycles, with 2020 being the final year in this cycle. Tim gave an overview of completed projects and explained that closed/reduced routes are adapted fir use by pedestrians, horses and cyclists. They are awaiting confirmation of funding for the new portfolio, but this will include duelling of the A66 from Penrith to Scotch Corner.

Raj from Northern joked he is expecting all the tough questions after lunch so will highlight the positives now! This includes 101 new trains, modernising stock and a move towards smart ticketing.

Having moved up from London, he first experienced commuting in the North six years ago and immediately realise it was of a standard London simply wouldn’t put up with. He is passionate about ensuring the North gets the investment it deserves. There should not be a choice between a reliable commuter service, pan-Northern connections and a North/South link. The North should demand investment for all of these.

Network Rail has been on a rollercoaster for the last 12 months. Anna-Jane has seen the company deliver low levels of performance, become front page news for all the wrong reasons, and come under close scrutiny from press and customers. This is totally deserved, she says, but there are glimmers of hope.

The company has been restructured to out the customer first. The focus will on delivering the basics better, further investments in depots and stations, and addressing areas of congestion (e.g. central Manchester). The big projects underway, such as HS2 and NPR, show a belief in the North.

The Castlefield corridor (Deansgate to platforms 13 and 14 at Piccadilly) has now been officially recognised as congested leading to additional funding. Anna-Jane has spent much of the last 12 months looking into the wider central Manchester area, including a review of the proposed platforms 15 and 16 at Piccadilly and extending Oxford Road. Nothing has been confirmed as all stakeholders are working hard to agree the best solution for operators, passengers, value for money and minimising disruption.

After lunch, Adam invited the speakers back to the stage for a panel discussion.

Is transport getting better for Manchester?

Starting with Raj, how has it been at Northern? He started work on the day of the new timetable and no-one was prepared for what happened. The infrastructure is old and not capable of enabling the ambitious speed of progress. Better project management is required as well as more transparency with passengers. Raj came under fire from colleagues for telling the MEN in late 2018 that nothing would improve for six months. Luckily his directors agreed that honesty with customers was key and that passengers want realistic timescales with no blame game.

Ian has seen similar changes at TfGM. The new GM Rail Prospectus is ambitious and demanding, but worth reiterating it is not in local/regional control. GM Mayor Andy Burnham has campaigned for more openness with customers across the industry and for decision making to take place in the impacted area. He is not looking to replace operators but local leaders want a greater say over the franchising process.

Smart motorways make better use of existing infrastructure, use the hard shoulder with sufficient control of those sections in case of emergencies, and use technology to manage the traffic flow. Tim has seen these deliver benefits in reduced journey times and a more reliable system. However where the technology is implement without additional lanes (as on the M6) those benefits are limited. Highways England is also improving the educational element as not all drivers understand the new technology (e.g. driving in lanes with red crosses over them).

Tim added that the airport junction will be improved after the M62 upgrades. The initial plan was to run simultaneously but the disruption would be too severe. Wprk is now due to start in 12 to 18 months.

In addition to the improvements to Manchester Airport Sam covered in her presentation, she noted that customer experience is absolutely key. Over the last eight years, passenger numbers have increased by 10 million which cannot be serviced by the existing infrastructure. Whilst the improvements are underway, Sam appreciates the experience is not good enough for customers. Improving the service is a complex matter as only 10% of the onsite staff are actually employed by MAG. They must work closely with third parties, such as UK Border Force, to improve standards throughout the customer journey.

What is being done in relation to green issues and air quality?

Central government has instructed local government to respond to air quality issues and identified 12 sections of road in GM likely to be in breach of NOX emissions by 2021 (these should have been met by 2010). TfGM has used local data which shows 150 locations likely to be in breach. The plans will include some form of Clean Air Zone (charging non-compliant vehicles) and there will be further consultation around this.

Manchester City Council has declared climate change emergency and GMCA plans to be carbon neutral by 2038. Infrastructure is being planned to prioritise public transport and active commuting. The Beelines project has secured £160m investment over 3 – 4 years, with Chris Boardman campaigning for £1.5bn. There is now a pipeline of projects and TfGM is building up capability to deliver these to the right standard.

Highways England addresses environmental impact from the very start. They assess how much can be done by rail or canal and then make road provisions, particularly for under-connected areas. Roads are moved further from residents and local groups are involved to ensure complementary infrastructure (e.g. cycling lanes) is delivered as part of the project.

What is the biggest impact of technology?

Raj: we are piloting bimodal trains which can move between diesel and electric, as well as researching hydrogen trains. Electrification isn’t the answer as it is too expensive and disruptive so need to consider the alternatives.

Sam: we use technology to analyse the way passengers use the service. The airport has a diverse traveller mix – low cost, business, holiday, commuter, family – and we can now personalise the journey. The airport itself is carbon neutral and new technology means that whilst aviation is growing, emissions aren’t.

Tim: it is all about provisions for the future fleet. Will these be electric, hydrogen or autonomous vehicles? Highways England is building infrastructure that lasts for decades so must consider future technologies.