Can the Advanced Manufacturing Park fix Sheffield – or other struggling cities?

Jeremy Corbyn learns about the AMRC.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.  

Sheffield, as we’ve often noted in these pages, is, economically speaking, a bit of a mystery. It’s one of England’s major provincial cities, at the heart of an urban region of nearly 2 million people. Yet it underperforms on most economic measures, even compared to other big post-industrial cities.

We’ve been through all this before, more than once. So today I’m going to ask a different question: can advanced manufacturing fix it?

This is not a theoretical question. The city is home to the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP), which in turn contains the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, or AMRC. (If anyone has any synonyms for the phrase “advanced manufacturing” going spare, this is the time to tell me.) These places link academics directly with major multinational firms like Boeing and McLaren, enabling the latter to access expertise and the former to commercialise their work.

It also uses, in the words of a recent Centre for Cities report on the AMP, an “open-source research model, that shares discoveries across the AMRC’s network without patents”: the park is focused almost entirely on research, rather than production, and is a place where firms from separate industries are encouraged to work together. Today it’s home to several hundred high paying manufacturing jobs of the sort that economists swoon over whenever they’re comparing Britain’s economy with that of Germany; fully half of these have arrived since 2012.

It has, in other words, been rather successful, even compared to similar manufacturing parks such as i54 in Wolverhampton or the Cody Technology Park in Aldershot. Look at the share of well-paying advanced manufacturing jobs, in dark green:

All of which raises two questions. Can this revive Sheffield’s economy? And could it do the same elsewhere?

The answer to the former seems to be a resounding “maybe”. Anthony Breach, the CfC researcher who authored the report, notes that firms from “different parts of the country and all over the world are now trading with Sheffield, because of the knowledge coming from the AMP”. It is at least putting the city on the radar, and the idea a Boeing, say, may one day want to create more jobs in the city so as to maximise access to the research park is not a crazy one.

On the flipside, though, the number of jobs in the park is 499 – the fact it’s not a round number gives it extra pathos, somehow – which is not to be sniffed at by any means, but is a drop in the ocean in a city of this size: it’s only 3 per cent of the region’s advanced manufacturing sector jobs. Even by the standards of similar parks, it’s small:

If it’s to have a hope of catching up with Leeds or Manchester, Sheffield needs to attract more high-skilled jobs. In practice that probably means attracting service businesses in sectors such as finance, law or publishing. That in turn means both attracting more graduates and improving the skills of the existing population: all the difficult, boring stuff we tend to go on about on this bit of CityMetric.

If the benefits of the AMP to Sheffield are limited, the case for replicating it elsewhere is decidedly thin. One of the reasons AMP has worked is because it’s the advanced manufacturing park – a single place where different industries and academies can cluster together and share ideas. (What’s different about those other larger industrial parks is that they tend to have production lines, rather than merely R&D.) There’s a danger that trying to set up copies would simply dilute the benefits, which come from having all those different firms, people and industries in one place. “If you had dozens of advanced manufacturing parks across the country,” argues Breach, “it’d defeat the purpose.”


None of this is to say it isn’t valuable – quite the opposite. “A lot of the research that goes on in the AMP improves productivity in Sunderland or North Wales,” notes Breach. “It’s a national asset, and the government should support it because of its national economic benefits.” That seems fair – if the nation gets the benefit, the nation should bear the costs. But it won’t magically sort out Sheffield.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report on the AMP here.

 
 
 
 

What are Europe’s longest train journeys?

The Orient Express was a pretty long train. Image: Getty.

For reasons that aren’t clear even to me, a question popped into my head and refused to leave: what’s longer? Britain’s longest train joruney, or Germany’s?

On the one hand, Germany is quite a bit larger – its area is 70 per cent more than Great Britain’s. On the other hand, Great Britain is long, skinny island and Germany is much rounder – the distance from John O’ Groats to Lands End is over 1,400 km, but you never have walk over 1,000 km to cross Germany in any direction.

And it turns out these factors balance almost each other out. Britain’s longest train, the CrossCountry from Aberdeen in Scotland to Penzance in Cornwall, runs 785 miles or 1,263 km. Germany’s longest train, the IC 2216 from Offenburg in the Black Forest to Greifswald on the Baltic coast, is exactly 1,300 km. Germany wins by a tiny distance.

Except then I was hooked. What about the longest train in France? Spain? Italy?

So I did what anyone would do. I made a map.

The map above was all drawn with the Deutsche Bahn (Germany Railways) travel planning tool, which rather incredibly has nearly every railway in Europe. The data quality is better for some countries than others (the lines in France aren’t quite that straight in real life), and the measurements may be a bit off – it’s not always easy to find the length of a train service, especially when routes can vary over the year – but it gives us a good idea of what the routes look like.

Let’s start with the UK. The Aberdeen to Penzance route isn’t really for people who want to go all the way across the country. Instead, it’s a way to link together several railway lines and connect some medium-to-large cities that otherwise don’t have many direct services. “Cross-country” trains like these have existed for a century, but because they crossed multiple different company’s lines – and later, multiple British Rail regions – they tended to get ignored.

 

That’s why, when it privatised the railways, the government created a specific CrossCountry franchise so there was a company dedicated to these underused routes. If you want to get from Edinburgh to Leeds or Derby to Bristol, you’ll probably want a CrossCountry train.

The usual route is Edinburgh to Plymouth, but once a day they run an extra long one. Just one way though – there’s no Penzance to Aberdeen train. 

The longest train in Germany is weird – at 1,400 km, it’s substantially longer than the country itself. On the map, the reason is obvious – it takes a huge C shaped route. (It also doubles back on itself at one point in order to reach Stuttgart).

This route takes it down the Rhine, the biggest river in west Germany, and through the most densely populated patch of the country around Cologne and Dusseldorf known as the Ruhr. Germany’s second and third longest trains also have quite similar routes – they start and end in remote corners of the country, but all three have the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area in the middle.

You’re not meant to take the IC 2216 all the way from north east to south west – there are much more direct options available. Instead, it’s for people who want to travel to these major cities. They could run two separate trains – say, Offenburg-Dusseldorf and Griefswald-Cologne – but making it a single route means passengers benefit from a bit more flexibility and helps DB use its rolling stock more effectively.

France’s longest train exists for a very good reason. Most of France’s high-speed lines radiate out from Paris, and it’s very hard to get around the country without going to the capital. Usually to get from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Nantes near the Atlantic, you’d need to take a TGV to Paris Gare de Lyon station, then get the Métro across the city to Gare Montparnasse.

Once a day though, this TGV avoids this faff by stopping in the suburb of Juvisy and turning around without going into the centre. This lets passengers travel direct between the coasts and reduces the traffic through Paris’s terminals in the rush hour. The exact length of this route isn’t clear, but Wikipedia says it’s about 1,130 km.

Spain’s longest train is very different. This is the Trenhotel sleeper service from Barcelona to Vigo, and it’s pretty fancy. This is a train for tourists and business travellers, with some quite luxurious sleeping cabins. But it is a regularly scheduled train run by the state operator Renfe, not a luxury charter, and it does appear in the timetables.

Being dry, hot and quite mountainous in its middle, most of Spain’s cities are on its coast (Madrid is the one major exception) and as a result the train passes through relatively few urban areas. (Zaragoza, Spain’s 5th largest city, is on the route, but after that the next biggest city is Burgos, its 35th largest,) This is partly why overnight trains work so well on the route – without many stops in the middle, most passengers can just sleep right through the journey, although there are occasional day time trains on that route too if you want to savour the view on that 1,314 km journey.

Finally, there’s Italy. This is another sleeper train, from Milan in the north to Syracuse on the island of Sicily. It goes via Rome and travels along the west coast of... wait, it’s a train to the island of Sicily? How, when there’s no bridge?

Well, this train takes a boat. I don’t really have anything else to add here. It’s just a train that they literally drive onto a ferry, sail across the water, and then drive off again at the other side. That’s pretty cool.

(As I was writing this, someone on Twitter got in touch to tell me the route will get even longer in September when the line to Palermo reopens. That should be exciting.)

So those are the longest trains in each country. But they aren’t the longest in Europe.

For one thing, there are some countries we haven’t looked at yet with very long trains. Sweden has some spectacular routes from its southern tip up into the Arctic north, and although the Donbass War appears to have cut Ukraine’s Uzhorod to Luhansk service short, even Uzhorod to Kharkiv is over 1,400 km. And then there are the international routes.

To encourage the Russian rich to take the train for their holiday, Russian Railways now run a luxury sleeper from Moscow to Nice, passing through France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Czechia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. This monster line is 3,315 km long and stretches across most of the continent. That’s got to be the longest in Europe, right?

Nope. Incredibly, the longest train in Europe doesn’t actually cross a single border. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Russia, but it’s not the Trans-Siberian – the vast majority of that’s route is in Asia, not Europe. No, if you really want a long European train journey, head to Adler, just south of the Olympic host city Sochi. From there, you can catch a train up to Vorkuta on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The route zigzags a bit over its 89 hour, 4,200 km journey, but it always stays on the European side of the Ural mountains.

Bring a good book.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray often tweets about this kind of nonsense at @stejormur.


All maps courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.