Have re­cent rail en­hance­ments de­liv­ered eco­nomic ben­e­fits? PHILIP HAIGH stud­ies new re­ports that sug­gest while im­prove­ments are pop­u­lar, eco­nomic and em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits can be hard to quan­tify

Rail (UK) - - Contents - Philip Haigh Con­tribut­ing Writer rail@bauer­me­

The dif­fi­culty de­vel­op­ing rail links.

OPEN­ING Ox­ford Park­way sta­tion and pro­vid­ing di­rect trains to Lon­don Maryle­bone has made the lo­cal area a bet­ter place to work and live.

That’s the ini­tial con­clu­sion from a re­port writ­ten by trans­port con­sul­tant Steer Davies Gleave (now Steer) for the Depart­ment for Trans­port (DfT). It’s ini­tial be­cause the sta­tion only opened in Oc­to­ber 2015, and it takes time for the ben­e­fits or the down­side of new in­fra­struc­ture to show through.

Steer notes that Ox­ford Park­way sta­tion has made rail eas­ier to reach from the area north of Ox­ford - pro­vided pas­sen­gers can drive or get a lift to the sta­tion.

There’s no hous­ing or busi­nesses in the sta­tion’s im­me­di­ate vicin­ity. The houses of Kidling­ton are a mile or so north, and Ox­ford’s hous­ing that spreads north­wards along the Woodstock and Ban­bury Roads ceases a lit­tle be­yond the A40 by­pass (around a mile short of the new sta­tion).

The sta­tion sits in Ox­ford’s green belt, which lim­its de­vel­op­ment. Steer ar­gues that the new sta­tion could gen­er­ate in­ter­est from prop­erty de­vel­op­ers, although it adds that its easy road ac­cess might limit this.

The DfT pub­lished Steer’s re­port around the time of a new re­port from Trans­port for New Homes (TfNH). This re­port high­lighted the poor pub­lic trans­port links that come with new hous­ing. Trans­port for New Homes com­plained that Eng­land’s rush to build new houses meant they were of­ten erected in places only ac­ces­si­ble by car, and by de­vel­op­ers who failed to pro­vide in­fra­struc­ture for any­thing but cars.

TfNH said it found only one area of new homes with a new sta­tion, and that was Cran­brook (near Ex­eter). It said that rail of­fered unim­peded ac­cess to Ex­eter, and that Cran­brook’s hourly ser­vices was al­ready full and stand­ing in the rush hour.

That’s a sharp con­trast with Ox­ford Park­way, which has a sta­tion but no lo­cal hous­ing, so tieing pas­sen­gers into us­ing cars and roads to reach it.

Although TfNH’s re­port is pri­mar­ily con­cerned with de­vel­op­ing new hous­ing that in­cludes good walk­ing, cy­cling and bus links to other com­mu­ni­ties, it de­liv­ers a sharp mes­sage about the dif­fi­cul­ties of de­vel­op­ing rail links: “The ac­count given to us by the [Cran­brook] lo­cal author­ity of­fi­cers of the many, many years of pa­tient prepa­ra­tion of busi­ness cases for the sta­tion, ex­ten­sive and com­plex ne­go­ti­a­tion with Net­work Rail and other par­ties, filled us with ad­mi­ra­tion that they had per­sisted so long. It made us aware of the many bar­ri­ers to de­liv­ery of lo­cal rail. Fund­ing road ca­pac­ity ap­pears much eas­ier.”

Kirk­stall Forge (near Leeds) pro­vides an ex­am­ple which bucks the trend that TfNH found. Its sta­tion opened in 2016 and now has a half-hourly ser­vice to Leeds, six min­utes away (Bradford is 15 min­utes by rail).

The for­mer in­dus­trial site is set to re­ceive more than 1,000 homes, while its de­vel­op­ers are also plan­ning com­mer­cial, re­tail and leisure space as well as build­ing a pri­mary school.

There’s lit­tle at the site now be­yond an of­fice block, but the de­vel­op­ment holds the prom­ise of coun­ter­ing many of TfNH’s

crit­i­cisms of new hous­ing es­tates.

While busi­nesses may be at­tracted to Ox­ford Park­way’s sur­round­ing area, Steer’s re­port says: “Few busi­nesses are cur­rently lo­cated in this area, how­ever, and this ef­fect is not likely to be sig­nif­i­cant in the ab­sence of the re­lease of land through plan­ning pol­icy or ef­forts to sup­port de­vel­op­ment.” In other words, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties need to ac­tively help, rather than just hop­ing good things hap­pen.

Sep­a­rately, TfNH ar­gues that busi­nesses are an im­por­tant part of com­mu­ni­ties, pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment for those liv­ing lo­cally. Oth­er­wise, new devel­op­ments sim­ply be­come dor­mi­to­ries for com­muters, with lit­tle life of their own.

Ox­ford Park­way sta­tion has at­tracted some pas­sen­gers who used to use Ox­ford sta­tion, help­ing ease road con­ges­tion in the town, but it has also at­tracted pas­sen­gers who would not have trav­elled be­fore the new sta­tion opened. This has led to more trips into Lon­don and other des­ti­na­tions along the Chiltern Main Line. There is now more in­ward com­mut­ing to Ox­ford from places such as High Wy­combe on the Chiltern Main Line, the re­port says.

Steer’s study of Ox­ford Park­way is one of an­other five re­ports look­ing at the ef­fect of re­cent rail in­vest­ment. The oth­ers cover Fal­mouth, Broms­grove, Swin­don, Corby and Leam­ing­ton Spa.

The con­sul­tant finds a mixed pic­ture where it’s dif­fi­cult to split other fac­tors from those of the rail im­prove­ments. Chief of these is what Steer calls the ‘Great Re­ces­sion’ that fol­lowed 2008’s bank­ing col­lapse. How­ever, it draws some con­clu­sions from com­par­ing the ar­eas un­der ex­am­i­na­tion with oth­ers that have sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics but no rail im­prove­ments.

For Corby, this com­para­tor was Daven­try. Steer found that Corby had a greater pro­por­tion of lo­cal res­i­dents us­ing rail since the new sta­tion opened in 2009 than did Daven­try. Re­search showed that 27% of Corby res­i­dents said the sta­tion was an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in de­cid­ing where to live (for Daven­try, the fig­ure was 21%). Be­fore Corby sta­tion opened, res­i­dents had to travel 20 min­utes to Ket­ter­ing to catch trains, sim­i­lar to the trip for Daven­try res­i­dents to Rugby.

Over­all, Steer noted: “The new rail ser­vice and sta­tion at Corby, through mak­ing rail travel more con­ve­nient for lo­cal peo­ple, has en­cour­aged ad­di­tional rail trips, both newly gen­er­ated and from other modes, although the rail us­age data does sug­gest the ma­jor­ity of trips were ab­stracted from other lo­cal sta­tions at Ket­ter­ing and Mar­ket Har­bor­ough.”

Although Steer found some ev­i­dence that Corby sta­tion’s open­ing had im­proved lo­cal em­ploy­ment, that ev­i­dence was weak and could not be linked to the sta­tion. Like­wise, Steer found lit­tle proof that the sta­tion had aided lo­cal pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Leam­ing­ton Spa re­ceived a se­ries of im­prove­ments to the Chiltern Main Line that cut jour­ney times to Lon­don from 2011. In the five years that fol­lowed, Steer found a growth rate of 5.6%, but this was below the re­port’s com­para­tor, Rugby (7.8%) and the West Mid­lands aver­age of 6.6%.

Pop­u­la­tion growth has been sim­i­lar across all three ar­eas, so Steer con­cludes that Leam­ing­ton Spa’s im­prove­ments have had lit­tle ef­fect in at­tract­ing more peo­ple to live in the town. Like­wise, it found lit­tle pos­i­tive ef­fect on lo­cal em­ploy­ment.

Fal­mouth’s im­prove­ments came in 2009, al­low­ing a bet­ter anal­y­sis of what they have de­liv­ered for the town.

Ser­vices dou­bled to two trains per hour along its branch line to Truro and, since then, an­nual growth has been 8% com­pared with 1% at com­para­tor Gun­nis­lake that had no ser­vice in­creases, and 3% for Cornwall gen­er­ally. Pop­u­la­tion growth has been just higher than the county aver­age, but much higher than Gun­nis­lake. Of those mov­ing to Fal­mouth since 2010, 39% said the rail ser­vice was an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion.

Em­ploy­ment grew 8%, com­pared with Gun­nis­lake’s 15% de­cline, with Fal­mouth be­com­ing more of a tourist at­trac­tion. How­ever, Steer warns: “The ef­fect of rail in­vest­ment is dif­fi­cult to iso­late defini­tively since it ap­pears that Gun­nis­lake was par­tic­u­larly badly af­fected by the Great Re­ces­sion.”

Nev­er­the­less, Steer reck­ons that Fal­mouth’s rail im­prove­ment helped it sur­vive the re­ces­sion in bet­ter shape than Gun­nis­lake. It sug­gests that bet­ter rail links helped Fal­mouth’s tourist trade and hence em­ploy­ment, but finds no eco­nomic up­lift at­trib­ut­able to the bet­ter rail­way.

Im­prove­ments to rail ser­vices for Swin­don and Broms­grove are still be­ing de­liv­ered, so Steer’s work for these two ar­eas forms the ba­sis for fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion. It ex­pects both to ben­e­fit.

Over­all, these re­ports high­light the dif­fi­culty in iso­lat­ing the ben­e­fits of rail im­prove­ments from the wider econ­omy. Com­para­tors pro­vide one method, but they need care­ful se­lec­tion and can never pro­vide a per­fect com­par­i­son.

For ex­am­ple, Steer se­lected Gun­nis­lake as its com­para­tor for Fal­mouth on the ba­sis that both had a sim­i­lar hourly rail ser­vice, be­fore Fal­mouth’s im­proved. Yet Gun­nis­lake is ru­ral with a pop­u­la­tion of 6,000 with lit­tle lo­cal em­ploy­ment, while Fal­mouth is a town of 21,000.

Over­all, Steer’s re­ports show that the ben­e­fits of rail im­prove­ments are weak on an eco­nomic and em­ploy­ment ba­sis, but they do make travel eas­ier and are usu­ally pop­u­lar in their lo­cal area. Whether pop­u­lar­ity is suf­fi­cient to jus­tify spend­ing large sums on rail en­hance­ments re­mains to be seen.

“Trans­port for New Homes ar­gues that busi­nesses are an im­por­tant part of com­mu­ni­ties, pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment for those liv­ing lo­cally. Oth­er­wise, new devel­op­ments sim­ply be­come dor­mi­to­ries for com­muters, with lit­tle life of their own.”


Chiltern Rail­ways 168214 stands at Ox­ford Park­way on Oc­to­ber 26 2015, on the first week­day the sta­tion was open. A Steer re­port sug­gests that Ox­ford Park­way sta­tion has made rail eas­ier to reach from the area north of Ox­ford - pro­vided pas­sen­gers can drive or get a lift to the sta­tion.

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