The HS2 Eastern leg is looking increasing likely to be scrapped, leaving many major cities off the high speed network. However, Railfuture has a cheaper and better alternative plan. There could still be a return of 186 mph (or faster) trains to Leeds – image by RP Marks.
The eagerly awaited Integrated Rail Plan has been delayed, leading to fears of cutbacks or cancellations to investment in the North of England’s railways.
It looks as if HS2 is going ahead in full to serve the North West, but that the link from Birmingham to Leeds and the North East is to be kicked into the deepest of long grass. This is not levelling up, it is potentially a major economic setback for the East Midlands and Yorkshire and the North East generally.
There have been many calls by stakeholders for the HS2 Eastern leg to be implemented in full, but the only response from government so far is that they are considering a smart solution. We are keenly aware that the term 'smart' has been used before by government as a euphemism for cutbacks.
Railfuture proposes a genuinely smart solution that represents value for money, delivers the key economic and environmental benefits envisaged with the original HS2E scheme, but also shares the benefits of regional connectivity more evenly across the East Midlands, Yorkshire and North East.
HS2 services between London and Manchester must be extended over Northern Powerhouse Rail to Leeds. This would provide journey times not much more than via HS2E, and much less than via the ECML. Combining Manchester and Leeds traffic would enable more frequent services and attract sufficient traffic to ensure that the investment in HS2 is financially sound.
Better regional connectivity linking the cities of West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire than would be provided by HS2E alone is essential. Midland Main Line electrification must be extended beyond Kettering to Nottingham, Sheffield via the Erewash Valley and onwards to Leeds. Faster services between Birmingham and Nottingham must be provided, ideally via the first part of HS2E linking to the MML at East Midlands Parkway, or if HS2E is deferred by upgrading the existing route, including the line through Castle Donington to avoid reversal at Derby.
The revised plan advocated by Railfuture is designed as a cost effective, realistic plan, properly integrated into the current rail network, to improve regional benefits to a wider range of destinations, so mitigating the speed reduction from a cancellation of HS2E and intelligently addressing Northern Powerhouse Rail issues and rail congestion in Manchester.
- HS2 West must be completed in full, from London Euston, via Old Oak Common, Birmingham International (to be served by more HS2 trains) and Curzon Street in Birmingham City Centre. Associated rail and light rail distribution projects, based on Curzon Street and Moor Street stations, must be implemented to maximize regional benefits in Birmingham and the Black Country.
- HS2 West must continue as per powers obtained to Crewe, Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly.
- The plan must provide through linkages on to the West Coast Main Line designed to provide maximum economic benefits to Cheshire, North Wales, Lancashire, Cumbria and Scotland by the provision of through trains running onto the classic network directly from HS2. HS2 must be seen as addressing capacity and resilience issues on the whole national rail network in the West and East Midlands and Northern England. The upcoming order for HS2 trains must be 'classic compatible'.
- Augmented HS2 station platform capacity is required at Manchester Airport and Piccadilly. At Manchester Airport, capacity is required to provide for an HS2 shuttle to Manchester and onwards so relieving the Castlefield Corridor and the Ordsall Chord bottlenecks which currently constrict the whole rail operation in the North West. Two additional HS2/NPR platforms are required at Piccadilly to facilitate NPR connections and through services HS2/NPR via Manchester, preferably in the form of through platforms as advocated by Railfuture, or at least by reversal with a small time penalty. The recently constructed Ordsall Chord would not be used by NPR trains but would become available as originally planned but then abandoned, for Calder Valley trains accessing HS2 at Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. A value for money HS2 solution must address rail capacity problems in Manchester, not be seen as a free standing project.
- Levelling up the North West without levelling up the North East is politically and economically unsustainable if the Northern Powerhouse, as a single economic entity, is to be taken seriously. If HS2 East is cut back, a series of mitigation measures are required now to achieve capacity and resilience objectives, even if the speed objective is subordinated. The opportunity should be used to widen the benefits with an alternative plan for the whole of the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East.
- A plan for the East Midlands is required based on HS2 East, going as far as East Midlands Parkway or Toton as a minimum, so providing connections or through services to Nottingham and additional capacity on the Birmingham to the North East Cross Country route. A fast regional Birmingham to Nottingham route is a Railfuture priority shared by authorities in the East and West Midlands, not provided by the original HS2 East plan.
- HS2 East must feed into an upgraded Erewash Valley route directly serving Chesterfield and Sheffield and onward to Wakefield and Leeds via an upgraded and electrified Sheffield to Leeds route.
- The previous 'smart' decision on Midland Main line must be reversed by continuing electrification from Market Harborough via Leicester, Nottingham and Derby to Sheffield and Leeds.
- If the government does also cancel Northern Powerhouse Rail (Manchester – Bradford – Leeds) and opt for a capacity upgrade and electrification of the Standedge Trans Pennine route branded as NPR, Railfuture contends that the following upgrades are essential:
- NPR to run from 2 additional HS2 platforms at Manchester Piccadilly (currently being consulted)
- NPR to run into Leeds on an improved alignment, irrespective of the choice of NPR routing
- Infrastructure upgrades are required to better connect the HS2 stations in Manchester and Leeds to the Standedge route so reducing journey times, particularly alleviating the current poor alignment approaching Leeds
- NPR would serve Liverpool using the upgraded infrastructure at Miles Platting, Victoria and the Chat Moss Route (a longer term aspiration to build an HS2 link connection in Cheshire to facilitate routing all NPR trains via Piccadilly and Manchester Airport to Liverpool would be developed)
- NPR would serve Bradford as would HS2 by through high speed trains via Manchester, routed via Standedge and Huddersfield
- An alternative High Speed route would be provided to Leeds via Manchester Airport and Piccadilly
- The 4 tracking upgrade planned by Network Rail in the Mirfield area is essential to this plan, so also facilitating the freight route via the Calder Valley to Yorkshire. This should be seen in parallel to other route improvements listed to the Midland and East Coast lines
- Calder Valley trains would be extended via Victoria via the Ordsall Chord to Piccadilly directly linking with HS2 (not possible at present owing to congestion)
- Any cancellation of NPR between Manchester to Leeds must bring compensatory benefits to both the Huddersfield and the Calder Valley routes, ie more benefits to more places.
- Infrastructure upgrades are required on the East Coast Main line to accelerate the current service and provide economic benefits, envisaged by HS2, to North Yorkshire, Durham and Teesside, Tyneside, Northumberland and connectivity into Scotland. This includes alleviation of certain pinch points south of Doncaster and provision of a four track railway, effectively from south of York to Newcastle.
Railfuture high speed rail campaign