Some significant projects and policies will put transport at the heart of regional discussions and decisions in 2018.
Plans to give the North’s transport body legal powers and duties are seen by many as a game-changer.
The Government has published legislation which will turn Transport for the North into a statutory body responsible for drawing up a transport strategy for the region and more. It covers the North East , North West and Yorkshire, and becomes the first regional transport authority of its kind.
Transport for the North, overseen by local council leaders and business groups, was formed in 2015 but the Government has now published legislation known as a Statutory Instrument which will give it official powers and responsibilities. They include preparing a transport strategy, and a 30-year plan for the North will be published in 2018.
Transport for the North will also co-ordinate transport work currently carried out by local councils, create a smart ticketing scheme for the region and work with local councils on new road projects. And it will be consulted about future rail franchises in the area.
The body has funding of £260m, earmarked for specific schemes. There is £150m to create a smart ticketing system, allowing passengers to use a single smart-card for different services, and the plan is to introduce a smart-card season ticket for Northern passengers by the end of 2018.
Another £60m has been allocated for drawing up a “Northern Powerhouse” rail project, creating a new line linking the North West and North East. This is likely to be a high speed line and the final cost will run into billions of pounds. The final £50m is to run Northern Powerhouse rail itself.
Other significant developments to begin in 2018 include a new fleet of modernised trains on the Tyne and Wear Metro following a £337m grant announced in the Budget. Nexus say it will take two to three years for the entire fleet of 84 trains to be delivered. The new trains are expected to be running by late 2021, with old carriages being phased out over time.
Hammond also announced a £59m transport fund has been devolved to Teesside to improve public transport. Tees Valley Combined Authority is set to publish its own strategic transport plan in 2018 while one of its biggest assets, Teesport, continues boosted by a new arrival in 2017- a £6m ship-to-shore crane. The crane marks the latest phase of Teesport’s recent multi million pound investment in quayside facilities and technology including a dedicated rail terminal and the Navis terminal operating system.
The Port of Tyne has broken its record for its largest ever shipment of wood pellets. The bulk cargo vessel St Dimitrios has delivered 62,000 tonnes of wood pellets to the port, with the shipment set to take five days to be unloaded before being delivered to the Drax power station in North Yorkshire.
The 229m long vessel has sailed almost 8,846 nautical miles over 44 days from Vancouver, Canada, before docking on the Tyne. The Port is increasingly changing its operations to handle wood pellets as they start to replace coal as a major source of fuel for power stations in the UK.
On the roads, spring 2018 will see the opening of the £117m bridge over the River Wear – named the Northern Spire. The bridge is the first to be built across the River Wear for more than 40 years. It is Phase 2 of the Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor, which will improve links between the A19 and Sunderland city centre and the Port of Sunderland.
Work continues at Silverlink on the A19/A1058 while 2018 will see work to improve the A1 north of Ellingham get underway as well as start dates agreed for major schemes across the region, to be overseen by Transport for the North.
Transport and infrastructure is key to the region’s future and much needs to be done – we now await to see how the devolved administrations and other local authorities work together with Government and business to accelerate the necessary investment to support the regional economy.
Imagery provided by Nexus