Developing a strategic rail plan for Leicester and Leicestershire, to improve connectivity to key regional economies, to ensure fast services to London alongside HS2 and to provide rail access for planned economic and housing growth.
Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council, Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership
Strategy adopted in February 2017
Leicester benefits from fast, frequent services to London and some other cities, but its wider direct rail connectivity is relatively poor compared to similar areas. As they plan for significant economic and housing growth, leaders at Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council and the Leicester and Leicestershire Economic Partnership (LLEP) want to secure improvements to key services and to ensure that connections to London will not suffer after the opening of HS2.
In May 2015 they commissioned SLC Rail to help them understand the case for new rail connectivity and the supporting services and infrastructure, and to identify a clear set of priorities with which to lobby decision makers and funders.
In forming the rail strategy for Leicester and Leicestershire, SLC Rail focused on four areas:
- Improving regional connectivity, especially to Coventry, the Thames Valley, Manchester and Yorkshire.
- Maximising opportunities from the planned electrification of the Midland Main Line, including improvements to passenger services and securing services for the region’s strategic freight industry.
- Achieving the best results from phase two of HS2, including protection of fast (classic) services to London and high speed links to the North of England and Scotland.
- Incorporating access to the rail network into plans for economic and housing growth.
The strategy document was released for consultation in 2016 and the final version was formally adopted in February 2017 (see strategy document).
Most of the developments in the plan required Leicester and Leicestershire to act in a facilitating and lobbying role, rather than as direct funder or promoter of schemes. SLC Rail supported the Councils in developing partnerships with LEPs and devolved bodies, as well as political lobbying and rail industry development work:
Midland Main Line
With the cancellation of the Midland Main Line electrification and proposals to introduce bi-mode trains, it became even more important for Leicester and Leicestershire to obtain commitment from the industry and Government to maintain regular, fast services to London. SLC Rail provided a number of strategy papers to ensure that the Leicester and Leicestershire Rail Strategy supported the area’s Strategic Growth Plan and provided a clear direction of travel in the flux of changing rail policy and political decisions.
SLC Rail provided evidence of the economic importance of the services, together with credible growth forecasts, which Leicester and Leicestershire used to make strong, justified political arguments to the Department for Transport.
With the introduction of HS2, there is a great opportunity to substantially reduce journey times from Leicestershire to key economies in the North. However, this would depend on direct services starting on the existing rail network and transferring to HS2, with a North-facing junction near the East Midlands Interchange.
SLC Rail carried out a study of the economic value that would be achieved through provision of such a junction. By extending the proposed service to include other major towns south of Leicester, the substantial value to Leicestershire’s economy was clearly demonstrated. SLC Rail was successful in getting this project adopted by Midlands Connect, and for there being a serious prospect of it being incorporated in the Bill for HS2 Phase2b.
East Midlands Franchise
The East Midlands franchise process is providing an opportunity for Leicester and Leicestershire to shape the new franchise specification, to transform the service to better serve the local people and economy.
SLC Rail helped Leicester, Leicestershire and their partners across the East Midlands to present a consistent, detailed response to the Government’s franchise consultation. From service capacity to quality of rolling stock, a clear case for improvement was developed and delivered.
Direct services to Coventry
Despite the relative proximity of Leicester and Coventry, there are no direct rail services between the two cities. This is contributing to serious road congestion and has been identified as a barrier to economic growth.
SLC Rail secured funding and carried out a study, to develop a scheme for providing direct rail services connecting Leicester to Coventry as an extension of the NUCKLE route upgrade (read about the Nuneaton to Coventry upgrade).
Leicester and Leicestershire councils are continuing to work with SLC Rail to implement these and other rail priorities. At the time of writing, SLC Rail is assisting their clients with the further development of rail strategy and deliverable projects in support of their Strategic Growth Plan.