Opinion: We need HS2 and HS3 to benefit the north

HS2 Distortion 200The government’s support for HS2, despite the critics, has shown a real commitment to providing adequate transport links to sustain the UK and give the North a fairer deal as we head into the mid 21st century. We Lib Dems can be proud to be some of the program’s most enthusiastic and enduring supporters. The announcement yesterday of the creation of Transport for the North and the government’s support for HS3 means the North may finally start to enjoy the benefits of transport investment equivalent to the £17bn Crossrail and £6bn Thameslink that benefit London.This is a project worthy of our support, but there are a few questions to be answered.

As the plan is to mostly to upgrade track and reuse old tunnels rather than build new ones the speed is set to be 125mph, same as is already used the East and West Coast Main Lines, rather than the planned 250mph of HS2. Understandable given the terrain. However will the new HS line use British or European loading gauge? Loading gauge is the constraints on locomotive size, the larger European one being used on HS1 and 2. If it is not the latter we may face the unfortunate situation where our newly purchased high speed rolling stock is not able to also operate on the Liverpool to Leeds line. It would also remove the option, when the time comes where we again need to increase capacity, of introducing double decker trains similar to the French TGV Duplex, without the cost of laying new track. It must be remembered that the new High Speed lines are as much about capacity as they are point-to-point speed.

Then there’s the question of which cities should be connected? Many community leaders questioned the Prime Minister yesterday on how Liverpool and Hull are going to be connected into this new network. With Liverpool’s active docks and the government’s desire to make Humberside the green energy manufacturing powerhouse of the country it would be a severe limit on their potential were they to remain unintegrated into the network. Furthermore why aren’t Newcastle and York covered by Transport for the North? Being one of its largest cities and a major rail hub respectively their exclusion from the new 5 city body is questionable. Particularly when via properly linking the new HS3 line to the ECML one could decrease travel times between these two cities and Leeds, Manchester, and Liverpool relatively simply, cheaply and easily. It would even grant Edinburgh access to the new system. Increasing the potential benefactors of this investment dramatically.

Finally there is the issue of timetable. HS2 has already taken a notoriously long time, and has a way to go yet. With the second phase of the project to connect the North not due to be completed until 2033 with Sir David Higgins having already recommended an increase in project speed.  While it’s too early to make any detailed comment one can hope this project advances quickly enough to see results before 2035.

Transport for the North is a new organisation, but an overdue one. A body to provide long term co-ordinated planning will be of great benefit to our transport system. Hopefully in future it will give us sustainable road and rail links able to meet capacity demands across our region and connect us with the global economy, though ports both to the air and the seas.

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  • “It must be remembered that the new High Speed lines are as much about capacity as they are point-to-point speed.”

    I’d go further and suggest that this rail link should be primarily about capacity, with speed an added bonus.

    We’ve already been through this headache with HS2. The over-emphasis of speed has led the public to quite reasonably question why it is worth investing tens of billions to save a few minutes. By branding this project “HS3” it seems we are keen to repeat the same mistake. Let’s call it ‘High Capacity North’ and focus on creating new intercity rail links and boosting the ability existing lines to provide high frequency local services.

  • Indeed Duncan, the focus on speed rather than capacity has made it all too easy for critics to paint this as a ‘toy for the rich’. The capacity benefits of the HS lines are multiple:
    1) Increased speed also means an increase in potential throughput.
    2) New larger stations and platforms being built means trains can be longer.
    3) Bigger loading gauge makes double-decker trains a possibility.
    4) It’s a seperate line, the old one doesn’t cease to exist.

    It’s also worth noting here the benefits for freight, which is frequently ignored. As commuter trains now have a second line to use the old one becomes more opened up for freight trains, which at the moment for the most part are limited to operating at night due to capacity issues. Helping take lorries off the road.

  • The case for HS3 is much stronger than the case for HS2. The “north” (I’m not quite sure how Birmingham is qualified as the north now?) does not need a syphon draining its economic lifeblood to the south; it needs connections between its cities that will help them mutually thrive. Improving transport links between Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield should always have been a much higher priority than a link between Birmingham and London. Especially one that promises so little other than higher ticket prices and a cut in transport provision for struggling cities like Coventry.

  • @ Jack
    “The “north” (I’m not quite sure how Birmingham is qualified as the north now?) does not need a syphon draining its economic lifeblood to the south”

    So presumably you were against investment in the West Coast Mainline on the same grounds and in fact, to take the logic of your argument, if we cut off rail links totally, the “drain” on the North’s “economic lifeblood” would stop, would it?

    Why, if speeding up rail links from one region to another is such a zero sum game will it not just drain all the lifeblood from say Manchester and concentrate it in Leeds or vice versa?

  • @RC: Because Manchester is not so disproportionately larger than Leeds and does not have the same existing concentration of wealth that London has. Very large cities have a negative effect on nearby towns and cities as businesses and talent is drained off to the bright lights of the bigger city. You can see this in any of London’s commuter towns as they struggle to produce any homegrown industry but instead exist merely to service London. Few locals can afford to stay as the money of London jobs drives up rents and house prices.

    In other words: it’s a bit more complicated than that.

  • From Teesside guess I am in the wilderness or I should move at least a hundred miles south so I can also be considered in the North

    From my point of view the proposals are more the Midlands plus that should be done first or at least before hs2

    Now and again a pin in the map does pick Newcastle though not so lucky if you are near Berwick , Carlisle

    We need a clear definition of where the North starts, I call these plans the South

  • HS2 is a commuter line that, as far as I can tell, is being built for the use of MPs and Lords and a handful of other long-distance London commuters. It will do nothing for anyone else and just drain the public purse. New cross-country routes between northern cities will not lead to an increase in commuter traffic between, say, Manchester and Leeds, whereas HS2 will help destroy the economy of Birmingham as it will simply drive up house prices there making it a less competitive place for employers to set up new businesses as the attraction for new employees diminishes. HS3 would not do the same.

    Commuting is the enemy of the environment and is precisely what HS2 is being built to provide for, whereas transport infrastructure to improve the trade in goods and services improves the economy and can improve the environment by reducing congestion and reducing fuel consumption – the fact that HS3 will run slower trains than HS2 (whilst reducing journey times) is a key environmental consideration in favour of HS3 in comparison to the monstrosity of HS2.

    A London rail bypass, or through-line, would be a useful piece of infrastructure to connect northern cities to trading opportunities on the continent and genuinely improve passenger experience and journey times. London has served as a blockage to efficient rail transport through that corner of the country for far too long – it was a big problem during the first world war and still is to this day.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Oct '14 - 6:06pm

    A well informed article. I’m beginning to support HS2 and 3, but if we sound too excited then we’ll get ripped off. People who love infrastructure investment for the sake of it talk up the price.

  • Its all talk its rich mans toy paid for by those cannot afford to use it . its years away IF ever . They say for the North but where is the money being spent first the South

  • David Evershed 28th Oct '14 - 7:41pm

    There is a mass of infrastructure projects that could be conceived og and built.

    However there is a limit to how much the government can bottow to fund it.

    So projects should be prioritised on their estimated benefit to cost ratio. HS2 has a poor return on investment given the uncertainty around the assumptions in the business case. Government funds should be used for projects with a better return and lower risk.

    HS3 has not yet been evaluated but is also likely to be high risk.

  • @Jack
    Except the evidence from history points to the contrary, the introduction of the HST and Class 91 to increase the speed on the ECML to 125mph, and the Super Voyager and Pendolino doing the same on the WCML led to improvements in the economy of the cities served. Not the economic draining you seem to fear.

    Also Phase 2 of HS2 will benefit the North, not just Birmingham.

    ‘A London rail bypass, or through-line, would be a useful piece of infrastructure to connect northern cities to trading opportunities on the continent and genuinely improve passenger experience and journey times. ‘

    HS1 is already connected to the main network including the ECML and WCML. It would be perfectly possible to operate trains between cities along both of these main lines, and indeed was planned for with the ‘North of London’ rolling stock being bought for it. The reason this didn’t end up happening were twofold. 1) Economics, there wasn’t judged to be enough demand for it. 2) Border controls, the government required there to be immigration officers at all stops along these lines.

  • As someone in Yorkshire who is fervently pro-HS2, I’m a bit wary of what is meant by “High Speed 3”. The circumstances behind HS2 and HS3 are different; whereas HS2 is fundamentally about capacity, HS3 seems to be more about increasing lacklustre speeds (especially when the 50mph average on TPE is considered fast).

    For that reason, I’m hoping that HS3 is just a sexy name for a programme of improvements that build upon those being undertaken as part of the Northern Hub, such as the proposed extra platforms at Huddersfield and Halifax, reopening Skipton–Colne, resignalling to increase the throughput of trains and completing electrification of all the three southern transpennine lines (the Calder, Colne, and Hope Valley lines).

  • Lets get on with it without delay, it should have been started in the 1980’s but we British prevaricate whilst Europe gets on with it. The same sort of arguments against are what I heard said about motorway plans in the 1950’s. I hope I live long enough to be able to travel on its full length..

  • Re: will the new HS line use British or European loading gauge?

    You largely answered this question in the preceding sentence “As the plan is to mostly to upgrade track and reuse old tunnels rather than build new ones”. For the benefits of this approach (costs savings, earlier delivery) to be delivered the loading gauge will largely be constrained to the maximum the existing track formation can safely handle, which will also dictate the maximum speed.

    Whilst we are at an early stage, my concern from what I’ve seen is that this commendable idea will be further compromised. From the details published todate HS3 is neither a HS2 nor a Crossrail, but an upgrade of existing lines as a whole. Once you look at it as an upgrade I ask why is one of the forks stopping at Sheffield, where there will be issues around land for a terminus, when the fork could easily follow the existing route to Grimsby and so service the industries to the south of the Humber and the docks at Grimsby (where there is land for a railway works). Additionally, the existing lines across the Pennines are known to be problematic particularly in winter, which would seem to indicate that these links are best provided by a crossrail style solution, namely via extensive tunnelling; but that would add to the cost, which as we know from both HS1 and HS2 will be the overriding factor in deciding upon construction and route details.

  • With economic progress goes political reform process.
    We need HS2 & 3, but there must be democratic accountability at local levels.
    Local and regional government with power to drive regional economies.

    I have seen what happens to a market town when there are too many London commuters moving in: the local economy changes, small businesses vanish as property becomes unaffordable to the local economy, small manufacturers vanish as there is reduced local owned retailers. Non-city workers move out as local employment vanishes and homes become expensive. These places becomes a weekday ghost town and a car infested traffic jam at weekends. An example is Essex, but has become the norm for all countries around London, including the former technology belt of the Thames Valley.

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