New report makes powerful case for growth agenda for the North's railways

Northern rail train in station

A new report from pteg shows how the North’s booming railways are integral to its economic prospects; and shows why future plans for the North’s railways should be based on expansion and growth.

‘The Economic Value of Rail in the North of England’ finds that:

  • The combined net economic and regional supply-side benefits deliver £4.30 of economic value for every £1 of direct government support and government-backed borrowing
  • Patronage has been soaring (for example in the last ten years patronage at Ilkley has grown by 93%, Bolton by 122% and Huddersfield by 155%)
  • Over 70% of jobs in the North are within walking distance of a rail station
  • Northern and Trans-Pennine services carry around 200,000 commuters every day who contribute around £9bn to UK economic output per year
  • In some large cities, such as Manchester, trains now carry as many trips as buses and cars into city centres in the morning peak. If even a third of those rail trips were made by car instead then city centres would grind to a halt
  • Overcrowding on Northern services could have already lost Leeds and Manchester around 20,000 new jobs
  • The rail network in the North of England supports total retail and leisure spend in excess of £1 billion per year
  • Close to 100,000 students rely on the North of England rail network to get to university

The report also suggests that a positive growth agenda for the North’s railways would result in even wider benefits. For example, if rail services were able to attract just a quarter of commuters driving into metropolitan city centres then peak car speeds would increase by more than 50%.

The benefits of the North’s rail network also spread well beyond the largest cities. Lines like the Settle and Carlisle route boost tourism, take freight off sensitive roads, and make areas with poor road links more easily accessible. The success of rail in Cumbria is one example, with Oxenholme and Windermere stations seeing growth of 56% and 74% respectively in the last ten years.

The report concludes that:

‘Our analysis demonstrates that, despite what seem like relatively high values of operating subsidy, Northern rail networks deliver considerably higher economic benefits to non-users. Moreover, the significant direct and indirect contribution of rail spending to local economic output suggests that this form of spending can work well as a tool of regional cohesion and local economic development.’

pteg Support Unit Director, Jonathan Bray, said:

“This report shows just how much the economy of the North of England relies on its regional rail networks. From getting commuters into city centre workplaces, to taking HGVs off congested roads, and to opening up rural areas to tourism, the North’s railways fulfil a multiplicity of roles in supporting and building a more robust and sustainable Northern economy. The report also shows that where we have ‘built it, they have come’ in that where there has been investment in routes, trains and stations, extraordinary levels of patronage growth have followed. Even more remarkably, where our networks remain lumbered with some of Britain’s worst and oldest trains we have still seen passenger numbers rise – in some cases at a faster rate than in London and the South East. This is because the North’s railways are a good fit with the way in which our economies are developing – more people commuting further to access high value jobs; increasing numbers wanting to avoid the hassles of driving and parking to visit reinvigorated city centre attractions, National Parks and tourist hotspots; and greater synergies between the way urban and local economies interact with each other.”

Jonathan Bray added:

“This report spells out the benefits of the North’s rail networks in hard numbers and in a compelling way. It shows there is a strong case for a growth agenda for the North’s railways. Expansion and modernisation of the North’s railways is not just good for existing rail users it’s good for road users too – as the more traffic the railways take off the roads, the less congestion for road users. In short, the report shows that it’s high time that the North’s regional rail networks got their fair share of national rail investment and prioritisation.”


For more contact Jonathan Bray on 0113 251 7445

The report can be downloaded below.