Why Britain’s railways should be based in Newcastle
A zero-emission bus operated by The Go-Ahead Group in front of the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle
Carolyn Ferguson, Company Secretary
Where should the headquarters of Britain’s railways be? What city should serve as the beating heart of our national public transport network? That’s the challenge Grant Shapps laid down earlier this year.
Great British Railways, the new body which will be the ‘guiding mind’ of the rail industry, is to be located outside London. Six cities - Birmingham, Crewe, Derby, Doncaster, Newcastle and York – have been shortlisted. A consultative public vote is underway and the Transport Secretary will make a final decision later in the year.
Each of those six English cities has its strengths. But only Newcastle can boast a combination of excellent connectivity, a dedicated rail academy, levelling up potential and ready-made locations replete with railway heritage.
One of the sites proposed by Newcastle City Council is the Pattern Shop in Newcastle’s Stephenson Quarter – quite literally the location where Robert Stephenson, creator of the Rocket, first built his railway locomotives. The Stephenson Quarter is presently in its second phase of regeneration, and the Pattern Shop, a Grade II listed building, will contain 30,000 square feet of stunning office space.
The second suggested site is Forth Goods Yard – the original passenger station for Newcastle on completion of the Newcastle-to-Carlisle Railways in 1839. Positioning GB Railways there would be a catalyst for broader regeneration of the Forth Yards area – a 19 hectare priority brownfield site in the urban core of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
So why else Newcastle? I’m biased, because I’ve lived here all my life, and because I’m Company Secretary of The Go-Ahead Group – an international transport company founded, and based, in the north east.
Go-Ahead was established in a Gateshead bus depot back in 1987. We now employ more than 27,000 people globally, including 2,000 people in Newcastle and the surrounding area – at Go North East, our local bus company, and at Go-Ahead Group’s head office in Grey Street, in the city centre.
In terms of connectivity, the city of Newcastle is a gateway to the rest of the UK with London, Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester all reach-able within three hours.
Go-Ahead has found that every possible transport skill – from drivers to schedulers, technicians, IT specialists, accountants and pensions administrators – is available here in Newcastle. And the local college has a one-of-a-kind Rail and Civil Engineering Academy, developing new graduates for the rail industry.
Lumo, part of FirstGroup, recently opened its northern headquarters in the Stephenson Quarter. And nearby, in Durham, Hitachi is investing £110 million in a new manufacturing base. From coal to coding, the city is now one of the UK’s leading destinations for data, innovation, emerging and immersive technologies, and green energy.
And, of course, locating GB Railways in Newcastle would deliver a visible and meaningful commitment to levelling up – a boost to our regional economy, and a true commitment by the Government to the north east.
The Go-Ahead Group operates Britain’s biggest rail network – Govia Thameslink Railway. We also run trains in Norway and Germany. As a British international transport company with its roots in Tyneside, we’ve been proud to lend our support to Newcastle’s bid for Great British Railways.
Please support the bid by casting your vote here [https://gbrtt.co.uk/hq-competition-public-vote/]. Help us turn Newcastle into Britain’s railway capital.
Carolyn Ferguson is Company Secretary of The Go-Ahead Group, based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.