03 September 2020

No sooner is the ink dry on EEH’s first phase of its Rail Study and it’s already ‘all aboard’ for Phase 2.
 
This project is concerned with the economics of the Heartland’s railway, in other words, if we crank up the rail offering where do we get our greatest ‘bang for our buck’?
 
The Phase 1 study shone the spotlight on parts of the region where journeys by rail are comparatively poor compared to road. Phase 2 analysis will take this thinking a step further by recommending where the case for investment might stack up, whilst meeting the ambitions of our Transport Strategy.
 
Developing a deeper, broader understanding of railway economics is certainly an eye-opener. Who knew remembering the difference between static and dynamic agglomeration would put me in good stead, moving swiftly on before eyes begin to glaze…
 
That said, approaching the work in this way certainly gives transport planners like me a different perspective, reminding us that rail isn’t always the optimum solution, as much as I think we’d secretly like it to be.
 
It stands to reason, if rail is to triumph in increasingly volatile economic conditions, first and foremost we must play to its strengths. In doing so, identifying spatially, places and journey pairings in the region where conditions are ripe for rail  to play a much greater role in unleashing the region’s economy.   
 
So part of this work is about turning words into hard numbers. To do this we’re building on the strong partnership that exits with Network Rail by tapping into the expertise held by their economists.
 
For me, this type of study work is exactly what regional transport planning was made for, the genesis if you like behind the establishment of Sub-national Transport Bodies. It’s an intuitive approach that builds on the premise that strategic infrastructure issues extend beyond a single area, but importantly, recognises that we can only really start to put our foot on the gas when we align political support with the technical expertise early on in the planning stage.
 
Who knows, maybe the region’s next transformational rail project begins here…​

Antony Swift is a Project Lead at England's Economic Heartland.