Reliability in the Northern Powerhouse – an Investigation into the Potential Economic Benefits of Improved Reliability Across the North of England’s Rail Network

Reliability in the Northern Powerhouse – an Investigation into the Potential Economic Benefits of Improved Reliability Across the North of England’s Rail Network


Tim Pike, Arup, Pawel Bugajski, Arup


An investigation into the potential economic benefits of improved performance and reliability across the North of England's rail network using historic benchmarking and stated preference techniques.


Passengers place a premium on a high quality, highly reliable ‘turn up and go’ public transport system, being more inclined to travel by rail if the journey is perceived to be more predictable. But what is the potential scale of reliability as a monetised benefit for planned enhancements across the Northern Powerhouse?

Since the publication of the ‘One North’ report in July 2014 the concept of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ spanning the economic regions of the North of England, and underpinned by enhanced connectivity, has been steadily gathering momentum. This agenda is being overseen by Transport for the North (TfN) who are moving towards becoming a sub-national transport body in 2017, and since their creation have been pursuing a headline scheme – Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

The original purpose of NPR was to narrow the North of England’s economic deficit by establishing high speed, high frequency and high capacity rail connectivity between the region’s six core cities. To this end, a set of high level journey time and frequency Conditional Outputs were developed and these have been the foundation of the majority of the technical development work to date.

To achieve these Conditional Outputs significant investment will likely be required to provide sections of brand new two track railway, cut offs from existing lines, and major upgrades to existing rail infrastructure. The challenge that TfN and the Department for Transport (DfT) are currently faced with is building the economic case for these improvements using established appraisal techniques.

One area that has traditionally been neglected in demand forecasting is the impact of reliability improvements. Despite historic underinvestment, the rail network in the North of England has seen unprecedented passenger growth in recent years and, when combined with an increase in freight on key routes, this has resulted in declining performance across the board.

This paper examines the underlying relationship between reliability and passenger demand for rail, with a particular focus on the potential benefits that could be delivered through major enhancements to east-west rail connectivity in the North of England. Methodologies exist, and are commonly employed, to estimate the benefits realised through the improved reliability of dedicated high speed lines by simply applying uniform journey time reductions in demand models. However, this paper aims to further understand the fundamental relationship that both drives the need for, and sets the scope of, these adjustments so the full potential scale of the benefits can be understood at the appraisal stage for schemes such as NPR.

Through a combination of a benchmarking exercise utilising historic performance and patronage data for a range of rail corridors, and primary data collection from a stated preference survey to understand how passengers in the North of England perceive and respond to reliability issues, a picture will be built of the likely benefits that a reliable NPR network could bring.

The transformational nature of a scheme such as NPR requires a creative, innovative and bespoke approach to understanding the economic potential of demand-led benefits. This work will explore reliability as one area where the application of standard economic appraisal methodologies is to undersell the potential benefits of such a scheme.


Association for European Transport