HS2 Northern Section: East of the M60’s Verdict

East of the M60 on the High Speed Two proposals

East of the M60 would like to apologise for the late arrival of this article and the inconvenience this has caused to your reading.

So, £32 billion for a thousand or so miles of high speed track, new trains and new stations? Sounds good to me. Sounds like an opportunity to bring our rail network towards Mainland Europe during the noughties. The only problem is the wait: 2033 is the proposed year of completion, by which time a great many of us would be working from home.

According to the plans, trains will be able to connect with the new High Speed 2 lines with the West Coast and East Coast Main Lines. This would allow for direct services from Scotland to mainland Europe, a promise yet unfulfilled from the original Eurostar plans. Journey times from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston will be cut to 1 hour 10 minutes – the same journey time as First Transpennine Express’ Blackpool North service from the same station. There is also scope for London Euston connections with other flights to and from Ringway, offering air passengers an alternative to the Heathrow or Gatwick shuttle flight.

Between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport, a seven mile tunnel will run underneath Palatine Road and Wilmslow Road.

New Stations:

For Phase 2 of the HS2 plans (which I have referred to for ease of reading as the ‘Northern Section’), new stations will be as follows:

  • Leeds New Lane: just outside Leeds city centre, the city’s projected HS2 station will actually be near the Crown Point retail park and the Royal Armouries;
  • Manchester Piccadilly: Manchester’s HS2 station will be on the right hand/left hand side of Platform 1, possibly on the site of Rail House and on the site of former goods lines to Store Street;
  • Manchester Airport: Ringway’s second station will be on the more westerly side of the airport, off Hasty Lane and west of the M56 motorway. Junctions 5 and 6 will also be remodelled;
  • Birmingham Curzon Street: as part of HS2 Phase One, this station will return to our rail network for the first time since 1893;
  • Birmingham Interchange: close to M42 motorway and Coventry Road, this station will interchange with scheduled flights and offer a linked walkway between Birmingham International and Birmingham Interchange stations;
  • Sheffield Meadowhall: the existing station will be upgraded to allow for HS2 services;
  • East Midlands Hub: situated at Toton, this will offer easy interchange with local rail services and the M1 motorway.

In addition to the new stations, and upgraded existing stations, some HS2 services will call at stations on standard WCML metals such as Stafford, Crewe and Wigan North Western.

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The Case For HS2:

The UK’s high speed rail network is a bit of a joke. At present, it is a mere branch line from Paris Nord, calling at Ashford International and Ebbsfleet International prior to reaching St. Pancras. Northern English and Scottish citizens were promised direct Eurostar services though never got them.

High Speed Two will relieve much of the burden of the West Coast Main Line. In spite of inflation busting fares, rail travel has remained popular. The Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston service remains one of National Rail’s biggest hitters – even at present journey times. The proposed HS2 journey time of 70 minutes will be an asset and woo passengers away from domestic flights. With British Airways trying to wriggle out of providing Manchester Airport meaningful services, HS2 could be a viable alternative. Furthermore, B.A. could change its London shuttle flight destination to Manchester Airport Group’s newly added base in Stansted, offering air passengers a greater choice of destinations.

Ringway’s planned second station would also complement the Coalition Government’s Airport City plans. Its faster journey times to Manchester city centre would also provide scope for a sound alternative to incumbent Northern Rail and Transpennine Express rail services. It is hoped that the North of England may benefit from the arrival of new businesses wishing to set up office in Manchester, which would increase its international kudos. It would also make the City of London commutable as a regular journey, and this could be both an asset and a liability.

Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham may benefit, again with the capital and Birmingham a short distance away. It would provide a faster alternative to East Midlands Trains’ and East Coast’s services. Leeds’ city centre would extend further south of the River Aire, making Hunslet and Middleton desirable for future commuters.

Besides being a high speed service to London, HS2 Phase Two aims to offer faster local connections. For example, Manchester city centre to its airport; Leeds to Sheffield; Birmingham to Crewe. We hope the project succeeds and runs to time. It deserves to.

The Case Against HS2:

£33 billion, in 2013, can buy you a fair amount of other things besides a Fancy Dan rail link. It could be spent on providing decent pensions, raising state benefits to a more sustainable level, build a few schools and hospitals without PFI schemes, and of course, pay off a fair chunk of the deficit.

By 2033, should rail fares continue to rise the way they’ve done since privatisation, few people will be able to afford a return from Salford Crescent to Swinton, let alone one to London Euston from Manchester Piccadilly. It could be a white elephant – a royal train for the nouvelle riche and MPs, whereas the proletariat buy an advance purchase ticket for the corridor of an ageing (which they will be by 2033) Pendolino unit.

In 2033, we should be looking towards increased working from home for some functions. Broadband should be fast enough to reduce expensive meetings. HS2 would probably have limited novelty and be well monopolised by tourists. In the long term, the hyperbole over increased jobs in Northern England may be a misnomer. Instead, it may have the opposite effect of increasing London’s commuter belt. Jobless people – under the DWP’s 90 Minute Travel to Work rule – may be compelled to commute from Audenshaw for a minimum wage cleaning job in Camden! Ultimately, the overheated economy in London and South East England may be overheated more.

£33 billion could be better spent elsewhere, not only on our public services, but also in boosting the North’s existent railways. With electrification from Liverpool Lime Street to Church Fenton under way, a few new trains instead of some of London’s cast-off Class 319s would do. And you would still have sufficient change to replace the Class 142/143/144 Pacer units.

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East of the M60 Comment: Good Plans, Though Some Fine Tuning Is Required:

As a rail enthusiast, I welcome the plans to improve the North of England’s rail network. HS2 should complement instead of compete against Network Rail’s Northern Hub plans. From what I’ve seen of the plans, it aims to complement instead of compete, though there is some fine tuning which ought to be considered.

My criticism concerns the location of Manchester Airport’s station. Though good for car using Altrinchamians, there seems to be nothing concrete about connections with existing (by 2033) National Rail and Metrolink services. Where are the plans to extend the South Manchester [Metrolink] line from Manchester Airport’s bus/rail/tram interchange to the Manchester Airport International station? Upgraded bus routes between the two stations? Here lies potential for a part route upgrade of Arriva North West’s 18 and 19 bus services, and a slight rerouting of GHA Coaches’ 88 service to Knutsford from Altrincham.

I am slightly disappointed with the location of Sheffield’s station, but I would say this is due to lack of space at Sheffield Midland for the incorporation of HS2 services. Even so, it’ll connect well with Supertram services, local bus routes and National Rail services from Huddersfield and Wakefield.

With regards to the route for the Northern section of HS2, an opportunity to reopen the Woodhead line has been forsaken. HS2’s loading gauge will be set to a higher European standard – the same loading gauge utilised by British Railways’ 1954 Woodhead tunnel. Reopening the line would also allow swift empty carriage stock movements, freeing up the Standedge route if diversions or ECS movements need to be made. Furthermore, Manchester would also have a fast route to Sheffield again.

The plans also assume HS2 would be the sole preserve of passenger trains. Where are the policies regarding rail freight? HS2 could not only get a few cars off the M1, but also a few lorries, given the proposed route’s ability to link up with the WCML and ECML routes.

I hope that the HS2 plans are successful, run to time and happen to be on budget. I doubt the route’s abilities in creating an employment boom (either North or South); there is a wealth of other things which could reduce the North-South divide, which go beyond HS2 and the confines of this post. Even so, it’ll be a worthy addition, though I think 2033 may be ‘too little and too late’, given the shape of possible technological progress. If it complements other public and private transport systems – with suitable through-ticketing and the like, it will be a boon.

S.V., 31 January 2013.

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