Friday, 24 June 2011


My grandfather Walter Kennedy was a signal man and his brother in law, Jack Robinson was an engine driver. Jack was considered very sophisticated by me. It was not that my father called him a communist because he bought the Morning Star every day but that Jack and his wife, my Aunty Joan, were the only people in my family who had ever been abroad apart from in the company of the British Army. Jack got cheap travel concessions in Europe and he and Aunty Joan took holidays in Italy when a trip to Scarborough was the greatest trip my family could aspire to. However the railway connections in the family, including my father being born in Station Cottages in Acklington Northumberland, or my cousins Graham and Stephen's love of the pastime could get this football mad youngster interested in trainspotting.

My father's birthplace at Acklington Station, Northumberland
However Cllr. Anderson, Leader of Liverpool City Council is an avid train spotter. His conclusion is that we simply don't get enough of them coming to Liverpool. Recently he correctly berated Virgin for its poor service to and from Liverpool to London. The price, the crowded trains and the time taken on the journey all have an effect on the perception of the distance from Liverpool to London. It is highly appropriate for Liverpool to have an Embassy in London. To many Londoners and, in particular, business and political decision makers, Liverpool may as well be a foreign country.

So this week the Chamber of Commerce in Liverpool hosted an event in the Embassy to push the case for major transport projects that will greatly assist Liverpool's economic development. The Government is still consulting on a High Speed rail link from London to the north of England , a 'Y-shaped' high speed rail network that will reduce journey times from London to Birmingham to 49 minutes; and from London to Manchester and Leeds to around 80 minutes. The connections onto existing rail lines would have the effect of reducing journey times to other major cities in the north including Liverpool. 

Joe Anderson has rightly identified this as of major importance. He has stated, "It is crucially important that Liverpool is better connected to the rest of the country, especially London." But Joe has also linked this to other projects that are necessary to maintain Liverpool's economic renaissance pointing out that, "it is vital that this proposed network is coupled with investment to electrify the line from Liverpool to Manchester, to speed up journey times in the north west."

The Chamber event also highlighted another project that is of fundamental importance to Liverpool's connectivity and, in its simplicity and value for money, is possibly the most important of all. Compared to the £30 billion plus investment required, the Northern Hub proposed by Network Rail requires a much smaller, yet still substantial, investment of £530 million. The development of the Northern Hub would increase the number of trains across the region by 40% and carry another 3.5 million passengers. Apart from investment proposed in new track, improved stations and electrification, at the heart of the proposal is removing historical blockages  (connecting Piccadilly and Victoria is a good start!) to speed up journeys from and to areas west and east of Manchester. As I pointed out to delegates at the event, the completion of the Northern Hub might for the first time in a lifetime make getting the train home to see my mother in Newcastle a sensible option. When one thinks of the amount of investment in the road system from north west to north east, then compares it with the lack of investment in the rail system between those two regions it is a scandal.
Graham Botham Principal Commercial Scheme Sponsor, Network Rail

High Speed Rail is very important and is about linking the north west to London whilst the Northern Hub is about increasing connectivity within the region and across the country. Both are vital and the Chamber event made a point of saying that the investment is not an either/ or matter but that we need both to truly connect Liverpool up with the rest of the country.

One person in the country will express a preference on this if one had to be made. My mother does not see me often enough and it is a fairly gruelling drive up to the north east despite the motorway network that now exists. So I am a passionate supporter of the Northern Hub. I am relying on people like Graham Botham of Network Rail to put a smile on my mother's face by making it easier to get to Newcastle by train. Viva the Northern Hub!

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