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Scrutiny to consider economy-boosting 25-year rail improvement plan

Published on Thursday, January 12, 2017

AN ambitious 25-year strategy to shape Leicester and Leicestershire’s future rail services and provide a huge boost to the local economy is to be considered by the city council’s transport scrutiny commission.

Developed by the Leicester City and Leicestershire County councils, and the Leicester and Leicestershire Economic Partnership (LLEP), the draft rail strategy outlines joint priorities up to 2043, and aims to persuade the Government and rail companies to fund further improvements in local rail network and services.

Central to the new strategy is the joint call for the Midland Main Line to be connected to the Government’s HS2 High Speed route. This would improve the city and county’s links to Northern cities and boost the local economy by at least £40 million per year.

The Midland Main Line is due to be electrified over the next few years and the HS2 high speed route – which will have just one East Midlands station, at Toton, Nottinghamshire – is due to open by 2033.

The new strategy will be vital in helping to achieve significant improvements to rail travel to and from Leicester and Leicestershire stations, including:

  • Cutting Midland Main Line journey times from Leicester to London to under an hour
  • Using ‘classic compatible’ trains through Leicester and Leicestershire on the Midland Main Line and then onto HS2 at Toton, to ‘radically improve’ links to and from the north and Scotland. It would also open up the possibility for links to places in the Thames Valley area, such as Reading.
  • The potential for a new direct link to Coventry - currently, passengers from Leicester and Leicestershire have to change at Nuneaton.
  • Possible reductions in journey times to Birmingham, Manchester and Peterborough.

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “Leicester already benefits from a fast and frequent rail service to London, with good links to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield.

“However, direct connections to other cities are limited for a city the size of Leicester. We want to see better links to Coventry and the other day-to-day destinations that are most significant to the people who live and work in our region.

"It is crucial that HS2 is designed now to accommodate new, fast rail services from Leicester to key destinations such as Manchester, Leeds, York, Newcastle and Scotland, while improving these everyday commuter journeys.

“It is also vital to the local economy that the quality of the train service between Leicester and London doesn’t suffer once HS2 has opened. We are determined that our current fast and frequent services will be protected and further improved.”

County council leader Nick Rushton said: “This study shows that Leicester and Leicestershire could benefit by at least £40 million per year, by ensuring we are well connected to London and major cities, as well as to the HS2 network. But this must not happen at the expense of our current fast and frequent Midland Main Line services to London.

“We will lobby the Government, HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to seek to ensure that HS2 delivers real rail improvements and economic benefits for Leicester, while minimising its impacts, alongside continued high quality services on an electrified Midland Main Line.”

The draft rail strategy was first discussed in March 2016 and then went out for public consultation. It will be considered by the city council’s economic development, transport and scrutiny commission at its next meeting on Thursday 19 January.

Both councils are expected to formally adopt the new rail strategy in early February.

The draft strategy has cost £50,000, shared between the partners.