Funding for East West rail and Digital Railway

THE Chancellor has confirmed funding worth £110 million for the development of East West Rail between Oxford and Bedford.

£450 million will also be spent on trials of digital signalling, which is intended to expand capacity and improve reliability.

Among smaller awards, there is to be £5 million to help develop the Midlands Rail Hub. The Chancellor Philip Hammond said the cash was to allow an evaluation study to go ahead.

This news has been welcomed in Birmingham, where the city's largest station at New Street is running out of capacity. Although the recent 'Grand Central' rebuilding at ground level has provided a much larger concourse, the subsurface platforms are still a pinch point.

The Midland Rail Hub is a programme of rail upgrades in and around central Birmingham to provide up to 10 additional trains an hour, and is overseen by Midlands Connect, which is a partnership of 28 local authorities, 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships, Network Rail, Highways England, HS2 Ltd and businesses.

Cllr Roger Lawrence, who is the lead member for transport at the West Midlands Combined Authorities, said: “This commitment by the Chancellor to the Midlands Rail Hub recognises the key economic role of the West Midlands as the heart of the Midlands Engine and as the hub of the UK's rail network.

“The £5 million announced today will allow Midlands Connect to accelerate the feasibility work on the enhancements to the railway required to accommodate these additional services and maximise the benefits of the arrival of HS2 across the Midlands.

“Midlands Rail Hub will enable 10 additional trains an hour in and out of Birmingham, improving connectivity for passengers and businesses between key economic centres across both the East and West Midlands and add freight capacity into our key container hubs at Birmingham, Hams Hall and Birch Coppice.”

TfWM managing director Laura's Shoaf added: “The rail network into Birmingham New Stret station is effectively at capacity and Midlands Rail Hub will allow new services to be provided not just on our key intercity routes but also to local centres.”

The Chancellor also confirmed that Transport for the North will continue to work with the Department for Transport on the development of the Northern Powerhouse rail network to 'revolutionise' the region’s railways.

TfN chair John Cridland said, “We know the North currently lags behind the rest of England in terms of productivity but has huge potential. The new Northern Powerhouse Strategy highlights evidence from our Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review, published earlier this year, which identified that with the right investment in infrastructure and skills development, by 2050 the North’s economy would be worth £97 billion more than if it carried on developing at the current rate. That’s a huge prize, not just for the North but for the whole of the United Kingdom, and we are pleased that the government has recognised its importance.”

However, doubts have been expressed about whether the new wider transport investment announced by the Chancellor will be enough or is even being spent in the right way. James Stamp, head of transport at KPMG UK, said: “Today the Chancellor announced funding for more road and rail capacity. Specific improvements, such as alleviating road network pinch-points, and the Midlands Rail Hub, are welcome, as is the positive sentiment about Crossrail 2.

“However, even with investment in specific schemes, a stark fact remains: demand for transportation will always be ahead of our ability to pour more concrete. Making more from the capacity we have is – and will stay – key. Without this, congestion will remain a limiting factor on productivity."

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