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News from the UK Rail Industry 13th June 2019

Posted by: Warren Drobac
Industry News

Northern businesses back HS2

The vast majority of businesses in the north of England want the government to continue with HS2 and to build a new east-west link from Liverpool to Hull, research suggests.

5,000 businesses were asked for their view on the benefits to business of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), the £39bn transpennine rail line that would link to HS2. Research found:

  • 99% of firms believe NPR would raise productivity in the northern powerhouse zone.
  • 85% believe NPR would increase inward investment.
  • 75% say a commitment to deliver NPR would help them to make investment decisions.
  • 62% would recruit from a wider geographic area.
  • 43% would look to expand or relocate to encourage growth.

The government is considering a strategic outline business case for NPR. The line would increase the number of people able to reach four or more northern cities within an hour from 10,000 today to 1.3 million. 

Transport for the North (TfN) chairman, John Cridland, said: “We need the communities and businesses of the north to continue championing the critical need for such investment as the programme gains momentum.”

Rail minister Andrew Jones said: “It’s brilliant to see widespread business support for NPR and a recognition of the importance of linking it to HS2. When it comes to NPR and HS2, it isn’t an either/or situation. The north needs both to increase capacity, transform connectivity and unlock economic potential.”

The government has announced proposed tweaks to the second phase of HS2, running from Birmingham to Leeds via the East Midlands, and from Crewe to Manchester. The refinements include additional rail infrastructure and junctions between planned NPR and HS2 routes. Full story.

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Rail apprenticeships in high demand

Richard Turner, head of apprenticeships at Network Rail, has detailed the reasons for growing apprenticeship demand in the rail sector over the coming years.

“The Network Rail Engineering Technician apprenticeship program develops the technicians, team leaders, supervisors, managers, and engineers of the future,” he said.

“Over the next 15 years, our railway will undergo its biggest facelift in recent memory. And with an estimated £42bn looking to be spent over the next few years, change really is on the way. Whether it’s HS2, digital railway, or electrification – things are getting bigger, faster, and more reliable. But with all this work comes a lot of labour, and these major improvements require everything from project managers to plan the work, engineers and technicians to build and maintain the infrastructure, and new operators as new services come online. 

“While industrial action and ticket prices might grab the headlines, an often-forgotten threat to running a smooth and reliable railway is the impending talent bottleneck that put these infrastructure improvements at risk.”

Turner explained that the UK currently has a shortage of trained engineers, and that the railway requires greater numbers of system engineers who are currently the most “in demand.”

“Utilising apprenticeship levies and increasing apprenticeship intake represents one solution to generating new interest in railway engineering. The time has never been better to position rail apprenticeships as a viable and rewarding alternative to university.” 

Turner explained that this explains the 22% increase in apprenticeships reported by the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy ‘Two Years On’ paper. The original strategy cited a shortfall of some 30,000 workers in relation to construction projects as well as 10,000 more in relation to operations – a gap that’s been closed by utilising the apprenticeship levy.

It is estimated that the average age of technical specialists on the railway is over 45 and we are set to lose half of these skills over the next 20 years.

“Introducing a youthful early careers pipeline into these trades will prevent a skills bottleneck, prepare the workforce with new skills for the future, prevent wage inflation, and ensure that we have enough engineers to complete critical infrastructure improvements so that rail customers can benefit,” Turner said. Full story.

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