Five minutes with...Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North

Five minutes with...Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North
Published: 15 March 2021

Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North (TfN), has over 25 years’ experience in railway design and delivery. He has previously held two rail director positions in the private sector and is known for early development of rail private public partnership schemes, as well as partner and stakeholder management.

In our latest interview, we talk to Tim about his current role, which aims to drive transformational economic change within the pan-northern area of the rail system, with a primary focus on improving connectivity between the six major city regions in the North and Manchester Airport.

Major transport projects are key to meeting the demands for a growing population, what do you see as the biggest challenge in your position as Rail Director for Northern Powerhouse Rail?

The most obvious challenge in the immediate future is the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan. This is a landmark document for rail investment in the North and Midlands which will look at how to dovetail mega rail projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 and the TransPennine Route Upgrade to drive economic growth. The decisions outlined in that document will define the North’s future for the next century.

Through Transport for the North, the North’s transformative rail aspirations have been outlined to government in the form of statutory advice ahead of the plan’s publication. That advice calls on the Government to be bold in its decision making and not to scale back on ambition of this long-promised investment that the region desperately requires.

We are eagerly awaiting the document’s publication and hope the decisions made about investment in the North’s rail network is based upon the suite of evidence that Transport for the North and the Department for Transport have developed in partnership over recent years.

With infrastructure being backed as the economic road to recovery in the UK, how important is securing the right talent to your business unit?

Attracting and retaining the right talent to the Northern Powerhouse Rail team has been central in reaching the stage we are currently at in the programme. The progress we have been able to make in the development of proposals to date is down to the outstanding team working across the whole programme, as is the collaborative nature in the way in which it has been delivered.

Working in partnership with the Department for Transport, Network Rail, HS2 Ltd and the local transport authorities, has enabled us to look at things holistically with key stakeholders, this has proved invaluable.

As the programme moves forward, the Northern Powerhouse Rail team will continue to expand. Securing additional talent and supporting the fantastic colleagues we already have on board is of paramount importance to the continued success of Northern Powerhouse Rail and Transport for the North.

Northern Powerhouse Rail will bring large scale opportunity at many levels, what impact do you believe this will have on the economy?

Northern Powerhouse Rail will be the single biggest investment in transport infrastructure in the North since the Industrial Revolution. A multi-billion-pound programme that will not only transform rail connectivity - modernising an ageing, unfit for purpose rail network - but act as an economic driver that will benefit the region for the next 100 years.

Committed in full, NPR will deliver up to £14.4bn each year in total gross value, added to the economy by 2060 and around 74,000 new jobs in the North, also by 2060.

For decades, the North has been held back, unable to reach its potential due to poor rail links, with an abundance of young Northerners constrained in the jobs and opportunities they can access.

Northern Powerhouse Rail changes that by hugely increasing the capacity, the frequency and slashing the speed of rail services to destinations across the North, acting as an economic driver for regeneration in towns and cities for the benefit of the region’s people.

COVID has momentarily shifted the focus away from environmental social responsibility. As we work towards getting on the road to recovery, where does the ‘green agenda’ sit in terms of priorities?

Climate change is an existential crisis which the international community faces. As such, it sits right at the very top of Transport for the North’s priorities.

High-speed rail projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail are vital to ensuring the UK meets its 2050 net zero carbon target, as they will play a pivotal role in bringing about a modal shift away from the fossil fuelled car towards more sustainable travel. For example, around 58,000 car trips will be removed from the road each day once Northern Powerhouse Rail is delivered.

It is imperative the transport industry continues to look at reducing carbon emissions. It is the largest emitting sector, producing 27% of all UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but rail is by far the most carbon efficient mass transit transport system available.

In 2017, greenhouse gas emissions from road transport made up around a fifth (21%) of the UK’s total GHG emissions. By contrast, rail accounts for less than 1% of the UK’s overall carbon emissions. Notably, every extra freight train takes up to 76 lorries off the road.

A virtually wholly electric railway delivered through Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 means we will be capable of moving people and heavy goods on our tracks in a low-carbon, energy efficient way. Diesel trains will be replaced with cleaner, greener electric ones, something which makes economic sense too. The cost of electrification will be more than offset by lower capital costs of electric trains and lower energy, operating and maintenance costs.

With a skills shortage across the infrastructure market, what steps need to be taken to develop the next generation of talent in the North?

The rail industry faces a significant problem - a shortage of talent and diversity of skills.

To overcome these issues, the sector must attract the brightest and most capable young minds; people, no matter their background, gender or ethnicity, that are of the highest calibre and capability. Collectively, we all need to do more to ensure that the future of rail is a diverse one, full of bright and fresh ideas that bridge the skills shortage on the horizon.

To deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 and other rail projects, we need to be training the next generation of engineers now, going into schools and colleges to show what can be done in the rail industry and inspiring young people to join a vibrant and growing industry sector. We will need 50,000 people to help us realise our vision for transport in the North.

When reflecting on your own career to date, what would your key piece of advice be to those looking to move into a position of leadership within the transport sector?

You need to learn as much as you can around your chosen field, but not forget that a wider more experienced mind - understanding all the interdependent disciplines - gives far greater understanding that makes you stand out from the crowd. As well as this, I would suggest it is important to be clear that your decision making is based on evidence, this will stand you in good stead.

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