Tim Wood, the Director of Northern Powerhouse Rail talks to us about his hopes and ambitions for the biggest single rail investment programme in the North of England since the Industrial Revolution…

‘Northern Powerhouse Rail is an economic programme. It will allow far greater capacity, connectivity and speed across the North – particularly East to West. We also want to ensure it is integrated with HS2 because HS2 will give us that connectivity North and South.

‘There is a real group realisation now that we just have to change in the way we operate as a society. Generation X is much less reliant on possessions and status and this includes ownership of cars. When people buy a car they are probably only going to use them for three or four per cent of its life. These are the kind of stats that are coming out from Uber, so there is a major opportunity for modal shift towards public transport – but we need to make sure it is a seamless experience for people.

‘With rail we can move a large amount of people across the North of England and feed the big businesses that are coming up here – but we can also feed tourism and social interaction – keeping families and loved ones closer together.

‘There is a real misconception about some of these major new rail programmes where people think they are all about speed. In fact, they are more about releasing capacity – enabling slow and fast services to operate efficiently without getting in the way of each other.

‘For us, in the North at the moment, the average passenger train travels at about 46 mph, a freight train travels at 15 mph, and we want to open that network to enable trains that need to, to be able to operate at 125 mph between the key city regions – Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Hull and Manchester International Airport – and the other key economic centres.

‘And what we really want is to invest in renewable energy, in environmentally friendly ways of travelling, particularly electric trains.

‘We also looking at new technologies such as hydrogen power and pioneering this technology here in the North. We are looking at taking hydrogen trains onto the Windermere Line, the only piece of electrification that has been cancelled here in the North. What better place to put in a hydrogen train than into a clear-air

National Park?

‘But, it is not only the new technologies we need, it is also the basics. The man or the woman on the street? They want a seat on the train. They want Wi-Fi they can depend on. They want the train to leave and arrive on time at its destination.

‘As Andrew Haines says, it’s really important that all of us in the industry ensure that we put the passenger or customer first – and that includes our customers who operate freight services.

‘Some people suggest we really don’t need new railway lines, we just need to upgrade the existing ones. But anyone who studies the issue in detail knows this is a long way from the truth.

‘The fact is the West and East Coast lines are full – and we are not really able to send any more trains up and down these routes. We have to open the arteries of the North, and that’s why we are calling for a brand new line between Liverpool and Manchester via Warrington– and a brand new line from Leeds to Manchester via Bradford.

‘So’ says Tim, ‘the big challenge now is securing the resources. Every time I speak, my main message is that it is all about being prepared. We know that we are going to need 20,000 people to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail. This will include everyone, from software engineers, right the way through to the people who are operating the machinery and bringing in far more mechanisation than we have ever seen on the railway before to deliver this programme at speed.

‘I think it is really important that the North prepares itself for this. We need to fully utilise the great colleges and universities that we have up here and ensure that the required skill base is fully trained up as needed. To ensure that happens, we are working to clearly communicate to industry and the supply chain what the development programme is for Northern Powerhouse Rail so they can plan around it.

‘The key to success for this Programme will be effective collaboration. A simple word perhaps, collaboration, but a vitally important one. Right now, on the Northern Powerhouse Rail Programme, we have large groups of specialists already working closely together. Our Core Team is working cheek by jowl with Network Rail, with HS2, with the DfT and with a raft of specialist consultants. At the centre of all this, and vitally important, is the ‘Guiding Mind’ approach that keeps everyone on the same page.

‘This Guiding Mind looks at the rail infrastructure and enhancements with an holistic view – so what we are not doing, is falling over each other – we are doing the job right, we’re doing it first time, and we’re delivering it safely.

‘We really want to drive that efficiency in the railway. We believe, the industry believes, that 25 per cent savings could be achieved with this approach. When you have such a large potential pot of work such as this in the North you have the chance to really drive those output-based efficiencies through long term contracts where you de-risk them to an extent by spending more money in the ground prior to a contract starting.

‘You have to really understand what the issues are, and how you can deal with them.  By avoiding the sort of stop/start scenarios we have seen in the past, you retain the efficiency, you retain the skill base – and you control the costs. We simply can’t continue as an industry with a boom-bust situation.

‘We’re just starting now a new Control Period and already we are starting to see companies laying people off, and yet we have just started. We should be bringing all this work together and understanding how it can be delivered in a systematic way so the workforce is actually being built up ready to start in the mid 2020’s on Northern Powerhouse Rail. We, in effect are Control Periods seven, eight, nine and ten.

‘Is the message being heard? Is it being understood? I think it is. And yes, it is understood – particularly down in Whitehall where it is clear that we won’t get to the money if we don’t have the skills. We don’t want wage inflation; we don’t want stagnation and loss of impetus – that’s why I have called on Andrew Haines and Mark Thurston making clear that we need to work together as that Guiding Mind so that we can deliver what is needed.’

Is Tim excited about the future?  ‘Yes, I am. It comes down to what we are going to leave as a legacy to the eight year olds of today. My son is 18 years old, just finished his A-levels, really starting out in life – these are the young people who will be the beneficiaries of this. This does put a responsibility on us – and, of course, as taxpayers, we will be paying for it so we need to see value for money and a programme of work that is delivered on time and to an agreed budget and which will truly interface with High Speed 2, with the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade and also with the rest of a rail network system.

‘This is what will foster modal shift. At the moment only 1.7 per cent of people in the North use the train – 85 per cent use fossil fuel vehicles. To succeed, we have to provide a public transport offering that is truly world-class.’

Does Tim think there is a public appetite for doing this? ‘I think it is starting to emerge. I think we need to see the new trains appearing now on the network through Northern and Trans-Pennine, and we need to see a real Vision coming together with everyone asking how fast can we deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and the associated programme of work of Transport for the North.’

So what of cost? And cost management? ‘We are now leading towards a single option network for Northern Powerhouse Rail during 2020 and a refreshed Strategic Outline Business Case before the end of that year. The Programme remains on programme and on budget. We do not see any changes to that.’

Tim says this is a private sector approach coming into a public sector environment, and adds: ‘We want to make some quite fundamental changes to the way we design and deliver rail schemes. We are constantly working as an A Team to deliver for our customers – the people of the North. The leaders I have spoken to are fully supportive of the way we want to move forward because they can see a new vision coming through in the railways – but we need to ensure we are working hand-in-glove with Network Rail and HS2. We are all in this together.

‘Without NPR, I think the North would be in the back seat and  it would remain so for decades to come because, big business will not come here as we won’t be able to move the amount of people we need to for the jobs to be accessed.’

Tim says things are moving forward. ‘We’ve seen Talk Talk coming up, we’ve seen the development of Media City and the BBC growing on site, and we’ve seen Channel 4 coming up. A lot of business down in London will be saying: ‘Why wouldn’t I relocate to the North’. It presents real commercial opportunities. And it’s a great place to live. You have two seaboards – you have access to Europe and America. That’s why we’re seeing more cranes today in Manchester than we do in London, and why Manchester Airport flies to more destinations than Heathrow.’

So what about those people who are some distance away from the NPR network? How will they benefit?

‘Well here’ says Tim, ‘we are talking about releasing capacity across the network – we will quite simply be able to get more freight trains and more passenger trains down those lines and that release of capacity will tie in with NPR development. For example, I live in Lancaster, I will catch a train down to Manchester or to Warrington and I will jump on an NPR service and I will be across into Hull, for example, an hour earlier than I would be without it.’

‘Think of it like this’ says Tim, ‘If you think of the UK being like a plane with its economy powered by its engines, the engine that powers the south east is running at close to full throttle, the one that powers the North is effectively just ticking over – it needs to be spooled up – and Northern Powerhouse Rail and other Transport investment programmes will provide the fuel to do that.’

What’s the prize? ‘£100 billion extra GVA by 2050 and 850,000 more full time jobs than business as usual by the same date.’

So, the big question? Can we afford it? Is Government listening? ‘They are absolutely listening’ he says, ‘they have our Strategic Outline Business Case and out of that we got £52 million worth of funding which is exactly what we asked for this year and, when we go into the Spending Review we will be asking for realistic funding as we go forward over the next years and decades.

‘We are working from an evidence base that is strong with all our members in the North bringing in their own evidence to support it, and they understand the outputs and how the benefits will be driven by the network.

‘Genuinely, I have been surprised and delighted by the way in which people have latched onto Northern Powerhouse Rail and what we are trying to achieve. Very recently newspapers from across the North came out and supported our journey – it just speaks volumes for what we are about.

‘People are taking the message back to their boardrooms and we are already letting substantial contracts and this is strengthening the team and our evidence base and there will be much more to come.

‘This progress is further evidenced by the fact that we will shortly be moving into our dedicated collaborative office where we will work side by side within our own Programme Office for the co-clients and Delivery Partners.’

Northern Powerhouse Rail is undoubtedly starting to capture the imagination of many. The Programme’s support continues to grow and the North’s leaders have shown real determination to deliver it with a strong and effective single voice.

Tim Wood, Director of Northern Powerhouse Rail, was speaking to Simon Shrouder, Rail Stakeholder Manager at Transport for the North