Delivering local rail projects of the future

By - World Infrastructure Journal

Delivering local rail projects of the future

In partnership with CPMS Group, Public Policy Projects (PPP) launched its latest infrastructure inquiry on local transport project delivery. The opening roundtable, chaired by former Transport Minister and PPP Deputy Chair, Stephen Hammond MP set out how local authorities can be empowered to successfully deliver their ambitious rail projects, fit for the needs of the future.

When Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps promised to “undo the damage” of the infamous 1960s Beeching cuts, nobody could have predicted the catastrophic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the rail network. With passenger capacity at just 21 per cent of pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2020, and the end of franchising as we once knew it. Like never before, Local Authorities have an opportunity to be at the forefront of this recovery, forging a new relationship with rail.

For 25 rail projects across the UK, the Restoring Your Railway Fund will be a steppingstone in taking more control of their local transport requirements. As one of several funds available to local authorities from the Department for Transport (DfT), this will help provide financial assistance and much-needed support towards developing and delivering these projects.

Local government must be given the right tools and direction to successfully provide new services and lines to communities. However, for local authorities who have not provided transport services for multiple decades, this can sometimes be difficult to find or to understand. PPP’s latest inquiry is changing this, through expert advice, best practice, and providing a forum for discussion which kicked off with the Restoring Your Local Railway: Empowering Local Government to deliver rail projects of the future roundtable.

Crucial collaboration

This roundtable brought together local authorities to discuss their developments, transport challenges and solutions as well as learn from the successes, and failures of other projects.

Meridian Water is one of these successful developments, which under the leadership of Peter George, Programme Director from Enfield Council, was able to deliver a new line and a £46 million station in 2019. A rarity in project delivery, this was both on time, within budget and forged multiple meaningful partnerships. Working across multiple London councils and stakeholders, including Network Rail, Mr George emphasised the importance of positive communication and collaboration at all stages throughout the process.

These relationships not only ensure a smoother and more efficient delivery, but also helps to understand the wider benefits outside of rail. A pitfall of many project bids is the failure to outline wider benefits which can crucially level up a pitch. The whole Meridian Water Development was clear on its opportunity to benefit the wider area which includes delivering 10,000 homes and 6,000 jobs in a neighbourhood of 30,000 people as well as create new entertainment spaces and a state-of-the-art film studio.

Regeneration not just rail

For many other areas across the UK, there is a similar opportunity at hand. Amanda Roper, Deputy Director of the Restoring Your Local Railway Fund at the DfT explained that the funds available “are a great opportunity to rebuild our resilient communities”. Government departments are keen to work together to see the cumulative impact of investment, particularly through the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) Towns Fund. Ms Roper explained that these are not just transport projects “but an opportunity to open up our high streets and look at levelling up whole towns. ”

For Mr George “rail infrastructure sets the tone and symbolises the quality of residential and leisure-led development that you want to unlock” which through greater quality investment will recoup itself through better placemaking and value.

“We should challenge ourselves not to be constrained in our thinking” he said, explaining that instead “we can look at different methods and systems to maximise outcomes”. One area of this, is to take control of design and delivery in-house as local authorities are best placed to understand the functions and needs of the architecture. Through this, the authorities can deliver “something that is significant enough for the moment, but can control costs and management”.

The requirements of each project are not one-faceted, and it is crucial that when looking at local transport problems, their solutions are similarly unique.

Sustainable solutions

This is also specifically true within the wider move towards decarbonisation which vitally depends on the expansion of public transport networks. As the climate crisis becomes ever-more present, the Government has continued to make ambitious sustainable targets including the move towards making the UK net-zero by 2050 and ending the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. Yet the discussion was clear “we cannot meet government sustainability goals, without strong infrastructure and promoting sustainable modes of transport”.

The current reality is that many public transport networks are simply not good enough to entice people away from individual vehicle use. Local authority representatives explained various situations of extreme car traffic in small cities, a lack of commuter trains and unreliable services in rural locations. This cannot fit the sustainability needs of the future and will require a rapid development of local infrastructure and project delivery unlike anything we have seen before, across the whole of the UK.

The discussion was clear that there is not one magic solution, but there are several contributions that local authorities can make. Improving public transport, using sustainable methods of construction for projects and taking a carbon-neutral approach to any new developments are just a handful. Decarbonisation cannot be achieved in one programme, but one successful project can be a useful step towards it.

A roadmap forward

Project delivery is therefore vital, and as we move forward, local authorities must continue to be supported. This PPP inquiry will further provide a forum for this support. Through different evidence-generating sessions and discussions, a project-delivery playbook will be created. This will be a useful and useable document for local authorities to use when setting out their business case and initial stages of delivery. Through this clear roadmap, it is hoped that local government will be empowered to not only successfully deliver transport projects for their local communities but level-up their area, fit for the needs of future.

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