On 18 November 2021, the Government unveiled its long-awaited £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan (IRP). 

The new plan represents a significant investment in rail infrastructure in the North and Midlands and is an essential part of the Government's strategy to attract passengers to travel by rail, encourage greener travel to meet decarbonisation targets for net zero by 2050, stimulate wider economic regeneration and achieve levelling up.

However, the plan has faced some criticism as the planned HS2 eastern line between East Midlands Parkway and Leeds will no longer go ahead and plans for the Northern Powerhouse Rail project between Leeds and Manchester have been scaled back.  

So what are the key investments under the IRP?

The plan seeks to deliver a range of benefits with new lines, increased capacity and improved journey times.  In particular, it includes:

  • Three new high-speed lines covering 110 miles:
    • HS2 from Crewe to Manchester with new stations at Manchester Airport and Manchester Station;
    • HS2 East from West Midlands to East Midlands Parkway; and 
    • A new high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail 
  • Electrifying and / or upgrading 3 existing lines covering 180 miles:
    • Transpennine Main Line between Manchester, Leeds and York;
    • Midland Main Line between London St Pancras, the East Midlands and Sheffield; and 
    • East Coast Main Line
  • Improving local services and integrating them properly with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail
    • West Yorkshire mass transit system project to receive £200m of immediate funding;
    • Contactless ticketing to be introduced across commuter networks in the North and Midlands;
    • Progress to be made to complete the Midlands Rail Hub and link with HS2; and
    • Work to be carried out to protect and improve services on existing main lines.

In essence, the IRP replaces previous plans with a hybrid model which uses a mixture of new-build high-speed lines and upgraded conventional lines, with the aim of delivering improved rail services up to 10 years earlier than originally planned. 

Great British Railways, when established, will take forward the delivery of many of the recommendations made in the IRP, and will take a lead role in the integration of these proposals with HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the existing network. As the largest single Government rail investment, it will be critical that delivery of the IRP is properly managed with the right balance of accountability and flexibility to ensure that risks associated with cost increases and construction delays are effectively mitigated.