Manchester to Leeds high speed route plans lack ambition, leaving out some of the other Northern Powerhouses.
Gideon can do fantasy, but he’s not the only dreamer. Having seen many a transport plan fall by the wayside, I still hope for better things for Northern England’s rail users. In the same way avid England fans have hoped to win the World Cup since 1966 onwards. As far as transport plans are concerned, I too can dream, but most of the time, they are just dreams. Such as a regular Stockport to Stalybridge service, or getting the 220/221 services back to pre-deregulation service levels (which are less likely than England winning the World Cup).
To me, his HS3 plans are hyped as much as the penny off real ale (I’ve not seen it, I know a certain pub in West Yorkshire where a pint went up a £1 in the space of a year). Likewise with the bingo tax relief: hyped up above all proportion (think of The Day Today‘s mission statement: ‘Fact x Importance = News’).
The section between Manchester and Leeds is probably one of the most rammed sections of permanent way outside of London, and as I said in my previous piece, any spare capacity is a bonus. But Manchester and Leeds have bucked the trend of its fellow northern cities in terms of economic growth, in spite of being behind London and having some of the worst rates of child poverty and unemployment. There is more to the north than its two brightest cities. There’s a fair number of great cities starved of investment close by. Within 50 miles of Manchester and Leeds. Either a short X6 ride away from the latter, or five minutes walk from the former.
Revisiting the Coast To Coast route
Back in the 1980s, when Class 40s ruled the roost at Neville Hill and Heaton depots, British Rail used to run a regular service from Holyhead to… Hull Paragon. Direct. Via Manchester Victoria, using Class 47 diesels and Mark 2 carriages. Plus it stopped at Stalybridge and Dewsbury as well as Colwyn Bay and South Milford. Part of the 1980s service runs today, terminating at Manchester Piccadilly.
Today, a journey from Holyhead to Hull often requires changing at Chester or Crewe, then Manchester Piccadilly. The fastest journey time is 4 hours 45 minutes (based on leaving Hull at 0637, a change at Manchester Piccadilly walking from the main train hall to Platform 14, and the 0850 service to Holyhead, arriving at 1122).
If we really need a line worthy of being HS3, what about connecting North Wales to the High Speed Network? It sounds good in theory, but there may be some infrastructural challenges, particularly around Conwy, where a tunnel following the A55 Expressway could be considered. Another challenge could be the tight area and terrain between Bangor and Conwy around Penmaenmawr and Llanfairfechan. Fast lines could be built parallel with the Expressway’s Anglesey section.
Llandudno Junction could be an important hub between HS3s to Hull and Arriva Trains Cymru’s services to Holyhead, Llandudno and Blaenau Ffestiniog. After Llandudno Junction, it could coexist with the conventional route, being as LNWR’s ‘Racetrack’ was designed for quadruple track between Chester and Llandudno Junction. To permit the restoration of quadruple sections, platforms at Shotton (Low Level) and Flint stations will need remodelling.
Therefore, stops on the North Wales section of HS3 could be:
- Holyhead: for ferries to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire;
- Valley: for Anglesey airport and connections with Cardiff flights;
- Bangor: for University of Bangor and connections with Arriva Cymru buses to Caernarfon;
- Llandudno Junction: for connections with Arriva Trains Cymru services to Llandudno, Penmaenmawr, Colwyn Bay and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Trains could run non-stop to…
- Chester: for connections with Birmingham New Street, Wrexham General and Crewe.
East of Chester:
- Some trains could continue to Crewe and join the HS2 route to London;
- The Manchester Airport HS2 station could be the next stop, with the HS3 line following the present route from Chester to Warrington Bank Quay. The Warrington Arpley Dunham line could be reinstated as far as Lymm, linking up with HS2 before reaching…
- Manchester Piccadilly HS station, with connections to London via HS2 and standard local inter-city services.
The proposed HS3 Route According to Gideon’s Way is likely to be via Guide Bridge and Stalybridge, where it is still possible for re-quadruplication. Obstacles along this section concern the approaches to Gorton, Fairfield and Guide Bridge stations, though the tunnel carrying the M60 motorway makes allowances for this. As of now, the section between Guide Bridge and Stalybridge (with contemporary line speeds of 20 mph) could be a bottleneck. This move could have been remedied by retaining the viaduct nearest to Wharf Street, Dukinfield.
Subsequent stops could include:
- Stalybridge: which is currently served by Transpennine Express’ Hull service, and also for interchange with local bus and rail services. The LNW Micklehurst Loop could be reinstated, with trains running non-stop to…
- Huddersfield: where passengers could change for Leeds New, instead of changing at…
- Leeds HS station: where passengers could continue to the city centre by bus. A non-stop section traversing part of the now closed Leeds New Line could be considered. The line to Hull could link up with Network Rail metals by means of a chord at Garforth from the HS2/ECML chord, joining the present line to Hull;
- Hessle: for interchange with Scarborough – Hull – Sheffield service and service buses across the Humber Bridge;
- Hull Paragon: journeys could connect with ferry services to Rotterdam, by means of shuttle buses, which could be included in the fare of a HS3 ticket.
The Holyhead to Hull route could be the main part of an HS3 route which befits its high speed and long distance nature. Furthermore, it should be part of a transport system which enables passengers to travel from Dublin to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge without needing to fly.
Liverpool Lime Street to Lymm:
The people of Liverpool have been crying for a slice of the HS2 action. Once again, part of the infrastructure is in place. We return to the former Cheshire Lines Committee line to Liverpool, which used to continue to Godley Junction via Lymm and Tiviot Dale. The line between Liverpool South Parkway and Warrington Arpley is used for goods. This could join the Lymm chord with scope for trains to London and Manchester as well as Hull. The latter destination allowing for a possible connection with Belfast and Douglas as well as Zeebrugge and Rotterdam.
As well as Liverpool Lime Street, the existing Liverpool South Parkway station could play host to High Speed trains. There could be scope for a new HS station at Widnes, serving also as a Park and Ride scheme for the town’s two bridges (supposing that by 2035, Widnes would be teeming with traffic from the two bridges).
Manchester Piccadilly HS to Meadowhall:
This branch could see the Woodhead line reinstated, with trains running non-stop from Guide Bridge to Barnsley Interchange. The former could be the first stop out of Manchester Piccadilly with non-stop running via Crowden, Woodhead and Penistone with Barnsley Interchange its first intermediate stop in South Yorkshire.
Though much of the Woodhead line trackbed is intact thanks to the Longdendale Way, development is stymied by the 1954 tunnel being filled in. If the tunnel was ever reinstated, there is scope for improved connections with South Yorkshire as well as parts of the East Midlands.
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HS3: only part of a plan
Whether it’s Gideon’s pricey shuttle service between Leeds and Manchester, or the more exhaustive ideas suggested above, High Speed Three should never be the ‘be all and end all’. It should be part of a fundamental plan to improve rail connections throughout Northern England. The Northern Hub plans are a step in the right direction, but to call a tarted up busy section of a main line HS3 is hubris.
Fast trains should also be complemented by interconnecting local services. Not only the 1126 from Stalybridge to Huddersfield and Scarborough, but also the 1740 Oldham to Hyde 343 service from Stalybridge bus station.
Gideon’s announcement may be plain political posturing to appease a few northern voters, away from UKIP or Labour to the Conservatives. On another count, it has highlighted one issue that we northern rail passengers have known for 40 years or so; that our rail network is pretty pants compared with our fellows in London and South East England.
Besides improved connections with London and mainland Europe, we need to boost our connections with other parts of Northern England. On a good day, it can take a motorist 3 hours and 20 minutes to get from Holyhead to Hull ferry terminals – a good 90 minutes less than the rail journey time (which is scandalous). That I shall leave for another subject, complementary to this post and the previous.
S.V., 23 June 2014.