The Northern Hub is a rail project across Northern England aimed at stimulating economic growth by increasing train services, reducing journey times and electrifying lines between the major cities and towns in the north. The project has a steering partnership involving Network Rail, Deutsche Bahn, First TransPennine Express, Northern Rail, East Midlands Trains, CrossCountry Trains, Freightliner, the Department for Transport, Transport for Greater Manchester and Merseytravel. The project was announced in 2009 as the Manchester Hub entailling a series of upgrades to cut journey times between cities in Northern England by alleviating rail bottlenecks around Manchester.
Central to the project is the resolution of rail bottlenecks around Manchester city centre allowing more capacity and faster journey times between the northern cities. The construction of two through platforms at Piccadilly will allow 14 trains per hour as against 10. Manchester Victoria station is being modernised to become the east-west rail interchange in northern England. Trains from the north east to Manchester Airport will use a new section of railway, the £85 million Ordsall Chord, between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Oxford Road to access Manchester Piccadilly and continue to the airport without the need to reverse at Piccadilly and without conflicting movements at the station throat. Services from Liverpool to Leeds and beyond will be diverted from the Cheshire Lines route via Warrington Central and Manchester Piccadilly to the electrified line via Newton-le-Willows and Manchester Victoria.
The Manchester Hub Study, outlining the project, was released by Network Rail in February 2010. Costs were estimated at £530 million, subsequently reassessed to £560 million. Chancellor George Osborne approved expenditure of £85 million for the new track link in his budget on 23 March 2011, and other aspects of the scheme were reviewed to ensure best value. A further £130 million was committed in Osborne's budget of March 2012, and approval for the full scheme was confirmed by the government on 16 July 2012. The first trains are expected to run on the new linking track in 2016 and the project completed by 2018.
Support for the scheme has been vociferous from civic and business leaders due to the high benefit-to-cost ratio and from politicians such as Chancellor George Osborne but criticised for being incremental and only improving the rail network in Northern England to "where it should have been a decade ago". The scheme has a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) of £4 for every £1 invested - double that of Crossrail and the proposed High Speed 2 which have a BCR of £2.10 and £2.30 respectively. A more comprehensive upgrade of inter-city travel in northern England was proposed in 2014 dubbed 'High Speed 3' and the 'Crossrail of the North'.
The Northern Hub was proposed in February 2010 to resolve recurring problems around Manchester city centre which restricted route capacity and frequently caused delays.
- Terminating trains in through platforms as opposed to terminal platforms at Manchester Victoria station removed capacity for trains passing through Manchester. The problem could have been mitigated by an additional terminating platform west of the station but operational efficiencies were achieved by altering route paths to relieve congestion.
- Congestion at Manchester Piccadilly was caused by trains having to reverse to travel on to Manchester Airport and trains between Liverpool and Yorkshire or the East Midlands had to switch lines across the throat of the station temporarily blocking all other services.
- Freight trains pass through Manchester city centre, unusual for a city centre rail network. Currently two freight trains per hour pass through Manchester to Trafford Park and no alternative route exists. Freight trains using passenger routes through Manchester was raised in Parliament in 2002.
Network Rail concluded that no single intervention would unlock the bottlenecks but that greater efficiency and enhancement to services was possible. A proposal to use Piccadilly primarily for north-south services and Victoria for east-west services was agreed as the most effective course of action.
The re-alignment of services commenced in May 2014 when TransPennine Express services between Liverpool Lime Street and Newcastle Central were routed through Manchester Victoria rather than Manchester Piccadilly. It is expected most TransPennine Express services will pass through Victoria by 2018 after the construction of the Ordsall Chord.
A number of major stations will be improved to include new platforms, station layout re-configuration and redevelopment. Most improvements will be in Manchester aimed at alleviating the bottlenecks that cause delays to passing services and restricts routes.
Manchester Victoria station will be re-configured as the hub in Northern England for east-west rail services. Once voted the worst station in the United Kingdom, it will receive a £44 million transformation including a £20 million roof covering the entire concourse and four platforms.
Manchester Piccadilly's through platforms, 13 and 14, will be modernised and two new through platforms, 15 and 16, will be built over Fairfield Street to alleviate congestion.
Manchester Oxford Road's platforms will be lengthened and a footbridge will be built. The Grade II listed timber grid-shell roof will be incorporated into the new station. The surrounding site around the station could be redeveloped with office, residential and leisure space.
At Leeds Station two platforms will be built at a cost of £13.6 million to alleviate congestion.
Salford Crescent station will be redeveloped at a cost of £12 million and further development could occur should extra capacity be required.
At Manchester Airport station a new platform will be built creating extra capacity and access for direct services from other cities in Northern England. Construction of a new platform began in February 2014. Huyton and Roby will have two new tracks through the stations to allow faster trains to pass and provide two additional platforms. Burnley Manchester Road station will receive a £2.3 million upgrade before the reinstatement of a direct rail service to Manchester Victoria via the re-opened Todmorden Curve in 2015. Dore and Totley railway station will get a second platform and a footbridge for access to the new platform. The single track will be doubled.
Northern Hub plans include:
- Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria stations linked by the new Ordsall Chord
- Station improvements notably at Manchester Victoria which was rated as the worst station in the United Kingdom in 2009.
- New platforms at Manchester Piccadilly for trains from/to Oxford Road, enabling traffic from the north and west to access the south side.
- New passing loop on the line from Liverpool to Manchester via Newton-le-Willows, between Roby and Huyton
- Extra capacity on routes through the Pennines between Leeds, Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Manchester
- New passing loops between Sheffield and Manchester at Chinley, Grindleford and Dore
Electrification for rail lines out of Manchester are underway or have been approved. While independent of the Northern Hub scheme, they complement it:
- Electrification of the Manchester to Liverpool line was announced by the Department for Transport in July 2009. The section from Manchester to Newton-le-Willows was completed in December 2013 and the section to Liverpool should have been completed by December 2014. The 32-mile line between Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Victoria via Huyton and Newton Le-Willows has a maximum speed limit of 75 mph. Following electrification and the introduction of Class 319 stock, trains will run at 90 mph cutting journey times from 47 to 32 minutes. The Manchester to Newton-le-Willows section was completed on 17 July 2013 marked by a small ceremony at Eccles station at which the Secretary of State for Transport, Rt. Hon. Patrick McLoughlin MP, was present. Electrified Manchester to Edinburgh and Glasgow services have been running since the timetable change in December 2013. Due to delays the target date for completion of the section from Earlestown to Liverpool was missed but electric train services between Liverpool and Manchester Airport commenced in March 2015.
- The Liverpool to Wigan Line from its junction at Huyton is to be electrified, providing a second connection to the West Coast Main Line at Ince Moss Junction via St. Helens Central. Intended to be operational by December 2014, delays moved the target for completion to 2015. Most masts and wiring are in place between Huyton Junction and Ince Moss Junction.
- Electrification of the Manchester to Preston Line via Bolton was announced in December 2009 and expected to be completed by December 2016. Preparatory work on bridges and tunnels commenced in 2014.
- Electrification of the line from Preston to Blackpool North is scheduled for completion by May 2016. It joins the Manchester to Preston Line providing an electrified route from Blackpool to Manchester and the West Coast Main Line
- The Huddersfield Line to Leeds and York via Stalybridge is expected to be electrified between 2016 and 2018. Electrification announced in November 2011.
Northern Hub is expected to deliver the following improvements:
- 14 trains an hour through compared with 10 currently
- Up to 700 more trains per day with space for 44 million more people to travel by train each year
- Two new fast trains per hour between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool Lime Street
- Six fast trains an hour at peak times between Leeds and Manchester as opposed to five
- New services to Manchester Airport from Bradford via Halifax, and the Calder Valley and from Chester
- A 15-minute service to Manchester Airport from Victoria, Oxford Road and Piccadilly
- An express service between Liverpool Lime Street and Newcastle Central via Victoria and Leeds started in May 2014
As part of the Northern Hub scheme; electrification of key lines will enable faster electric rolling stock which increases capacity and lowers journey times. Typically, diesel trains that operate between Manchester and Liverpool such as the Class 142 and Class 156 have a maximum speed limit of 75 mph. Following electrification, Class 319 will be used enabling a top speed of 100 mph.
Network Rail has published target times from Manchester to be achieved after the completion of the Northern Hub projects.
- Leeds and Manchester target time: 40 minutes - a reduction of 14 minutes
- Bradford and Manchester target time: 50 minutes - a reduction of 10 minutes
- Manchester and Sheffield target time: 40 minutes - a reduction of 8 minutes
- Chester and Manchester target time: 40 minutes - a reduction of 23 minutes
- Liverpool and Manchester target time: 30 minutes - a reduction of 17 minutes. A reduced journey time of 37 minutes was achieved in May 2014 with the introduction of the new 'express' route. The introduction of Class 319 trains in May 2015 will reduce journey times between both cities to 30 minutes.
- Manchester and Preston target time: 30 minutes - a reduction of 9 minutes
- There will be faster journey times to the East Midlands via Sheffield, Chester, Halifax, Hull, Newcastle and the North East
Network Rail's aim is for all schemes - including electrification, station upgrades and track work - to be completed by the end of 2018.
- April - work begins on restoring Manchester Victoria station
- 30 December - Manchester to West Coast Main Line and Newton-le-Willows electrification complete. New four-carriage Class 350s are introduced, reducing journey times and increasing capacity on the Edinburgh-Manchester Airport route.
- 20 May - a new fast service between Liverpool and Newcastle via Manchester Victoria begins delivering journey time reductions
- December - Newton-le-Willows to Liverpool Lime Street and Huyton to Wigan electrification complete - delayed, first services Liverpool to Manchester Airport did not run until March 2015. Four-carriage Class 319s will be introduced increasing capacity between Liverpool and Manchester Airport via Manchester Piccadilly.
- Spring - Completion of Manchester Victoria station redevelopment
- Early 2016 - work begins on building two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly and re-configuring Manchester Oxford Road (subject to application approval, expected in late 2015)
- May - Preston-Blackpool electrification complete
- December - Manchester Victoria to Preston electrification complete
- December - Manchester to Stalybridge electrification complete (TP phase 1)
- Ordsall Chord operational
- Platforms 15 and 16 to be operational at Manchester Piccadilly
- Manchester to Leeds and York electrification complete (TP phase 2)
- Two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly completed and operational
The historic first passenger railway station, Manchester Liverpool Road, a Grade I listed building, is threatened by the plan. After this project is completed, it will no longer be possible to run trains into or out of the station. The Manchester Museum of Science and Industry management objected to the scheme and an inquiry was set up in 2014 to investigate potential damage to the historic structure.
A growing consensus has been reached that, following Crossrail and High Speed 2, the next key infrastructure requirement is a continuation of the Northern Hub which has been described as 'incremental'. David Higgins, chairman of the HS2, stated in March 2014 that the Northern Hub scheme is incremental and the benefits of the High Speed 2 will not be fully felt if rail links between Northern cities are not improved. In June 2014, Chancellor of the Exchequer stated his vision to see improved transport links between Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds to increase economic productivity. Osborne's proposals were nicknamed 'Crossrail of the North' and 'High Speed 3'.
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