17.03 Translink NI railways

The review recommends funding improvements to the rail network in Northern Ireland, including possible route reopenings.

UK: Electrification of the coastal main line across north Wales between Crewe and Holyhead and further modernisation of the northern sections of the West Coast Main Line are among the key rail interventions recommended by Network Rail Chairman Sir Peter Hendy in his Union Connectivity Review, published on November 26.


The review was commissioned in October 2020 by the Westminster government to assess how transport links across the whole of the UK could be improved. An interim report was issued in March, which suggested that a UK Strategic Transport Network modelled on the European Union’s Trans-European Network for Transport could help to boost connectivity by focusing attention on the expansion and upgrading of strategic rail, road, sea and air connections between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The final report confirms that this would be known as UKNET.

Hendy makes a number of strategic recommendations that could help to underpin the UKNET concept. For rail, these include:

  • Reduce rail journey times and increase rail capacity between Scotland and London, the Midlands and northwest England by upgrading the West Coast Main Line north of Crewe and reviewing options for alternative northerly connections between High Speed 2 and the West Coast Main Line;
  • Seek to work with the Scottish government to develop an assessment of the east coast road and rail transport corridor from northeast England to southeast Scotland, including improvements on the East Coast Main Line;
  • Develop a package of railway improvements to increase connectivity and reduce journey times between Cardiff, Birmingham and beyond, which could include better rolling stock, timetable changes and enhanced infrastructure;
  • Work with the Welsh government to undertake a multimodal review of the North Wales transport corridor, and develop a package of improvements focused on the North Wales Main Line, including better connectivity with HS2, and electrification;
  • adopt a multimodal approach to the South Wales corridor between Newport and Cardiff by upgrading and building new stations on the existing South Wales Main Line, with the aim of reducing congestion on the M4 motorway in that corridor;
  • Agree with the Northern Ireland Executive a plan and funding to upgrade the railway in Northern Ireland, including better connectivity to the three airports and seaports, and to and from Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, and examine the potential to reopen closed lines;
  • Provide funding and major project expertise to the Northern Ireland Executive to support their work with the Republic of Ireland relating to the All Island Strategic Rail Review and its implementation.

Domestic flights boost


Polling by Ipsos MORi commissioned for the review found a majority in favour of spending more on rail than roads.

The review also advises the government to expand the domestic aviation sector by backing a cut in air passenger duty, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his October 26 national budget, and by recommending that the government intervenes in the regulation of airport capacity to create more slots for domestic flights.

However, these recommendations are tempered by a caveat that they should only apply ‘where journeys are too long to be reasonably taken by road or rail’.

UKNET commitment

Responding to the publication of the review, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he particularly welcomed, and intended to accept, the UKNET concept as a basis for future progress.

‘If we want to truly level up the country then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between all corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places more quickly’, he added. ‘Sir Peter Hendy’s review is an inspiring vision for the future of transport, which we will now consider carefully. Determined to get to work right away, we will set up a strategic UK-wide transport network that can better serve the whole country with stronger sea, rail and road links.’

Rail industry responses

XC 221 on ECML Lamburton 210919

Photo: Tony Miles

The UK and Scottish governments are recommended to further assess the investment needs in the east coast transport corridor.

‘Improvements to cross-border rail services are a vote of confidence in the role train travel will play as a quick, easy and green way to get around the country’, said Andy Bagnall, Director-General of the Rail Delivery Group. ‘To maximise the benefits of the proposed improvements and get more people taking the train to travel across Britain, government should make long-distance rail fares simpler and limit the APD cut to routes where a journey cannot be made by train in less than 5 h.’


Railway Industry Association Chief Executive Darren Caplan added that his organisation welcomed the findings. ‘It is good to see mention of upgrade schemes, such as the West Coast Main Line and North Wales Coast Line electrification, as well as improving rail links in Northern Ireland, across the Midlands, and on the east coast of England’, he said. ‘All would help increase rail capacity in the UK, vital to providing sustainable transport options for millions of people and also freight in the future, and boosting long-term economic growth.’

Supporting documents

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