A major campaign has been launched to secure £1bn of rail improvements which would transform the North Wales and Cheshire regional economy and deliver 70,000 new jobs over 20 years.
The campaign – called Growth track 360 – is being led by a cross-border alliance of business, political and public sector leaders.
If successful, it would lead to a massive boost to the North Wales, Cheshire and Wirral economies, linking them with the planned HS2 line between London and the North of England.
The campaign is calling for:
- the electrification of the line from Crewe to North Wales so the region can be linked to HS2 and fast London trains can continue to Bangor and Holyhead
- the doubling of frequency of trains between the North Wales Coast Line and Wrexham to Manchester through Chester
- the investment in new, modern, better equipped rolling stock
- creating new services between Liverpool and Liverpool Airport to North Wales and Wrexham via Chester (Halton Curve)
- doubling journey frequency between Wrexham and Liverpool via Deeside and Bidston.
Linked to the proposals would be improvements to stations to upgrade facilities and capacity and the creation of a smart ticketing system to make journey planning cheaper and easier.
Also being sought is a new approach to franchises to improve services and upgrades to signalling and line speeds to enhance journey times.
The campaign is being driven by the North Wales and Mersey Dee Rail Task Force (NW&MD) and has the backing of the region’s eight local authorities, the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, the Mersey Dee Alliance, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, the North Wales Business Council and the West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce.
Initial research suggests delivery of the improvements would lead to an estimated 70,000 new jobs across the North Wales and Mersey Dee region and the fast-tracking of economic growth so that GVA (the value of goods and services produced each year in the region) grows to £50.5bn in 20 years.
The proposals are regarded as an integrated and linked package of long term investment that will require sustained commitment to drive passenger use, reducing reliance on road transport.
Cllr Dilwyn Roberts, Leader of Conwy County Borough Council, said: “Our vision is for a smart, modern and integrated public transport system which can help us unlock the region’s full economic potential, ensuring we can fulfil our status as an integral part of the Norther Powerhouse and help to address the imbalance in the UK economy.”
Cllr Samantha Dixon, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “This investment is essential if we are to create opportunities for generations to come. This investment would increase productivity and economic growth, increasing tax revenues and reducing unemployment across the region.”
Cllr Derek Butler, Chairman of the Mersey Dee Alliance and Cabinet Member for Economic Development at Flintshire Council, said: “It is vital that our region gets this investment if we are to attract inward investment and talent. We have economic and business assets of national and international significance but cannot make the most of these without a rail system which meets our needs for the future.”
Ashley Rogers, Chairman of the North Wales Business Council, said: “Every sector of our economy and every community in the region would benefit massively from this long overdue investment. We cannot afford for this part of the UK to become a Cinderella region, left behind in the race for investment and in the Government’s ambitions for a Northern Powerhouse.”
Colin Brew, CEO of West Cheshire and North Wales Chamber of Commerce, said: “Additional capacity and faster journey times on our rail network will reduce road congestion and massively improve commuter, tourist and freight movements across the region.”
The Welsh Government’s Economy and Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates, said: “I welcome this report from the Rail Task Force. Rail services are a key component of our transport modernisation programme across Wales. Our vision is for a faster, more frequent, integrated transport service which places the needs of the passenger at its heart. Connecting people to jobs and businesses to growth opportunities is a must if the economy of North Wales is to continue to grow and reach its undoubted potential. The Growth Track 360 proposals sets out a vision for rail in the region that unlocks the economic potential on both sides of the border.”
Cllr Phil Davies, Leader of Wirral and Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Energy in Liverpool City Region, said: “Wirral is recognised as the number one location in the North West for clean energy engineering, and linking our economy to manufacturers in Cheshire and North Wales with a fast, reliable train service is long overdue. Moving goods and people between the Dee and the Mersey is fundamental to the continued growth of the region. Building a 21st century railway connecting Wirral to north Wales, Holyhead and beyond is a vital infrastructure project the Government should throw its weight behind.”
The campaign has already secured support for businesses across the region and has published a prospectus – Growth Track 360, Connected within an hour – which is being presented to senior Government figures in London and Cardiff.
The campaign will also be lobbying senior rail industry figures to make the case for the investment.
Mr Rogers said: “We are clearly pushing for a substantial and complex investment, so at this point our ask of Government is to commit to sufficient funding to establish a rail industry group to support our task force in commissioning feasibility work on the project so that a robust and detailed investment case can be made.
“We are also seeking a commitment to the acceleration of work on overdue projects, including North wales coast signalling and line speed improvements; the Halton Curve line between North Wales and Liverpool; and north-south line speed improvements.”