Grayling hints at north Wales connectivity boost
SECRETARY of State for Transport Chris Grayling has made a personal pledge to improve cross-border connectivity between north Wales and northwest England.
Speaking at the launch of the West and Wales Strategic Rail Prospectus in Westminster on February 26, he told local business and public leaders they had “friends at the Department [for Transport]”, and that he would “not allow north Wales to be left behind” in their bid for rail investment.
As a former resident and onetime parliamentary candidate in Cheshire, Grayling added that he was acutely aware of the interregional transport needs set out in the report, while praising it as a “timely reminder” of its economic potential.
His response will serve as encouragement to the authors of the prospectus, who comprise public and private sector leaders from Cheshire West and Chester, north Wales, Warrington and Cheshire East. There is also backing from Transport for the North, the Welsh Government, Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester.
Building on the work done to date by the Growth Track 360 campaign, which focused primarily on north Wales and the Mersey Dee areas, the prospectus sets out how a package of improvements at the strategic rail hubs of Crewe, Warrington, Manchester Airport and Chester could deliver 300,000 new jobs, boost productivity and stimulate house building, by enabling faster journey times and more frequent services.
In particular, it calls for a new rail hub at Crewe, which will become a key interchange in 2027 between the HS2 network and the surrounding ‘conventional’ network. Five to seven high-speed services should call there each hour.
The prospectus adds that classic services on regional lines and on the West Coast Main Line must also be enhanced, in order to bring up to 1.5 million people more than an hour closer to London, and to increase cross-border commuting by rail (which currently stands at just 1% of all journeys for work).
Grayling could not be drawn on the as-yet unpublished findings of the Government’s Crewe Hub consultation than ran from July 17-October 12, but appeared to endorse the aspirations set out in the prospectus.
He said: “We have to make sure HS2 interacts with surrounding lines, and it’s of paramount importance that the connectivity is there, and that north Wales in particular can link easily to the HS2 network.
“We have not yet published a formal response on the Crewe Hub, but I can look around the room today and give a gentle smile.”
Samantha Dixon, leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council and chairman of Growth Track 360, added: “Many people and businesses in our communities currently have to put up with long journeys and infrequent services, forcing many commuters onto congested roads and limiting opportunities for economic growth.
“Targeted investment in the area’s four key rail hubs and across the rail network can deliver a step change in connectivity and growth across the region. We are asking Government and the wider rail industry to recognise the potential that this investment can bring, and to work alongside us to make it a reality.”