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Railway mania

With HS2 confirmed, Martin Fullard hears the calls for improving connectivity East to West across the North.

The debate surrounding HS2 won’t be going away any time soon. With prime minister Boris Johnson confirming that the new £100bn railway will go ahead (11 February), there have been calls to rethink the route in the North of England.

The prime minister should prioritise a new Transpennine railway line before the Manchester section of HS2, says the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. Burnham called on Johnson to simultaneously build Northern Powerhouse Rail, which connects Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester. Indeed, Burnham says he even wants Northern Powerhouse Rail to take priority over the western spur of HS2, which means we would not see high-speed trains running from Birmingham to Manchester until the 2040s.

Dr Jonathan Owens, logistics expert from the University of Salford Business School, says the news of HS2’s greenlight could secure the future of British Steel at Scunthorpe, an important sector for the events industry. Dr Owens said: “HS2 needs about 170 tonnes of long product rail and switch, which can be made in British Steel Scunthorpe. Therefore, it would make sense for this to be the plant to be the main supplier for the project. Buying raw material from overseas is a waste of time, money and effort, as well as increasing the supply chain cost by up to 30%.

“Currently [Chinese steel manufacturer] Jingye is stalling on the deal negotiated in November last year. However, now that HS2 is confirmed, perhaps the deal looks more appealing. HS2 is a huge investment for the UK and keeping the investment within the UK’s supply chain as much as possible is important. “HS2 is a challenging project in several ways, and it would be useful to understand and learn from phase one how these problems can be overcome, for example purchasing of property/land and routing of the controlling cables through cities etc. “Understanding how well it operates in the more densely populated South, and does it cut travelling time as much as promised, could provide benchmarks for phase two. “If lessons can be learnt, adapted and improved from the first phase, then it may be worth waiting until 2035-2040 for the completion of the Manchester and Leeds connections.

 

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“The delay for HS2 coming North to Manchester and Leeds should be an opportunity to improve and develop and improve current infrastructure by focusing on the country’s East-West rail journeys for example, increasing throughput and reducing overcrowding. The HS2 project coming to these Northern regions earlier could be a distraction on the urgent need to focus on an inadequate infrastructure.” The result of an improved rail network across key Northern cities would make it far easier for conference organisers to move delegates around. The impact of business events on the environment is altogether rather glossed over as it is difficult to quantify.

On the other hand, regional Britain is seeing something of a boom, with cities and towns from Glasgow to Manchester and from Leeds to Newcastle all regenerating to become world-class conference destinations. The boost our £43bn industry offers to these destinations is vital to their prosperity, creating jobs and improving communities. However, in order to host business events, people still to need to be able to move around, and it stands to reason that rail travel is the most environmentally friendly option available. In order to further the regeneration of the country’s towns and cities, more investment, and new lines, are needed alongside overall improvements to our antiquated network.

The UK is now embarking on a world outside of the EU. The future will see us needing to compete with rival European destinations for major conference business, and if the UK can’t even guarantee that delegates will be able to move around, then we are disadvantaged. As the events industry gains a clearer identity in the eyes of the wider public, scrutiny will increase. The discussion about the size of our carbon footprint is one that we must have, and it’s warming to see so many event organisers factor sustainable practice into their event plans. However, we all rely on moving people around en masse, and the bad PR of how we do that is out of our hands. People simply won’t travel at all if the trains aren’t working.

 

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Conference fares

Chris Lund is regional marketing manager at Great Western Railway (GWR), and Conference News had the chance to chat to him at MEET South West in Bristol, 31 January, about the special delegate rates the franchise rail operator offers.

Explain the offer you have for conference delegates

We offer savings of up to 80% off Anytime fares for delegates booking our Conference Fares. These are available at GWR.com/Conference and we offer fares from most stations on the GWR network. Outbound tickets are fixed, and times and dates cannot be changed. However, the return journey is fully flexible and can be used to return up to a month later depending on your post-event plans.

Is it open to any conference or event, or is there certain criteria that needs to be met?

If it is possible to define a conference, we would say the offer is open to delegates attending ‘business-related speaking events’. We partner with a series of venues which we make this fare available to, but it is always worth checking with us if you’re unsure your conference will be valid, or whether that definition seems a grey area for your event and needs clarification. When travelling with GWR you will need to show proof of conference attendance to the train manager to qualify the discounted train ticket.

How can an event organiser contact you about conference rates?

One of the best things about the Conference Fares is that they are self-service for delegates to book, and venues or conference organisers do not need to register their venue or event. However, it is always nice to hear about new events and we are on hand to support any queries by emailing SalesEnquiries@GWR.com.

Is it available on all routes to all destinations or is it restricted?

We offer Conference Fares to many popular destinations across our GWR network, including: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Exeter, Newport, Oxford, Plymouth and Swansea. For a full list, visit GWR.com/Conference. Travel can be from any origin station on the GWR network, not just London.