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HS2 chair calls for better national rail plan

Britain needs to rethink its plans for the existing rail network if HS2 is to deliver maximum benefit for the country’s northern cities, the project’s new chairman said yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of a report recommending the government bring the second, northern phase of the proposed high-speed rail network forward by three years, Sir David Higgins said the scheme had to be better integrated with efforts to improve east-west connections in the North of England.

His report – originally commissioned to suggest cost savings – also recommended building a new regional transport hub at Crewe that would bring high-speed services to the North six years earlier than originally planned.

Though the report, entitled HS2 Plus, didn’t include a reduction in the total estimated budget of the project, Higgins did recommend shelving the planned £700m link with the Channel Tunnel rail link (HS1) in favour of examining other proposals, and reviving plans for a complete redevelopment of Euston station in London using private investment.

Higgins said government, rail authorities and the business community must come together to produce a more integrated transport plan that will maximise the benefits of HS2 by making it the spine of a modern rail system.

‘High Speed 2 has the potential to transform the North, not just individual cities but the region as a whole. But this will only be the case if we can see the bigger picture. So far the attention has been on individual places.

‘We need to think broader than that, properly coordinating HS2 with not just the existing network but also plans for its improvement during the time in which HS2 will be built. That would create the real possibility of improving journey times not just north-south, but also east-west.’

Integrated plan

High Speed 2 will link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in a Y-shaped network with trains travelling at up to 225mph but also transferring to the existing network to travel further north at conventional speeds.

Higgins told The Engineer that this would radically solve the issue of overly long journeys between London, the Midlands and the north of England. ‘But there’s still a gap, which is east-west,’ he said. ‘Money will be spent at the same time as we build High Speed 2. It’s not a case of either-or. It’s about the same amount of money to be spent on the existing network, but where is it going to be spent?’

This would include ‘an ambitious plan’ for better connecting Manchester and Leeds but should also include locations not directly served by HS2, he added. ‘You look at cities like Bradford, Wakefield, Barnsley or Stoke. You have to be able to show how those cities will benefit from this investment by either connecting into the new line or upgrading the existing ones.’

Higgins’ specific proposals included building a new rail and road interchange station south of Crewe, rather than tunnelling under the city to link to the existing station. The new hub and the line south to Birmingham would still form part of the second phase of construction but could then be opened three years before the whole scheme is complete.

Because Higgins also believes Phase Two could be completed by 2030 rather than 2033, this means the Crewe station would bring some of the benefits of faster journey times to the North six years earlier than originally planned.

‘You can’t build the phases at the same time because they require huge documents that take two to three years to prepare and two to three years to get through parliament,’ he said. ‘But you can look at what other things you can do in the North that don’t require a bill.’

He gave the example of the planned Northern Hub scheme to alleviate rail bottlenecks through Manchester and speed up east-west services, which he said could be brought forward.

Upgrading Euston

In London, Higgins proposed redesigning the current plans for Euston to include a “level deck design” that would allow access from one side of the station to another and enable more over-site development of shops, housing and offices.

‘Euston will need upgrading in 10 years anyway: let’s do it properly,’ said Higgins. ‘We could not just restore the grandeur of the Euston arch, but build something that rivals [recently redeveloped London stations] King’s Cross and St Pancras.’

He also called the proposed link with HS1 services at St Pancras ‘an imperfect compromise’ due to cost, a lack of evidence for demand for direct services from northern England to Paris, and the impact on existing passenger services, freight and the local community. He recommended the government commission a study of how else the two lines might be joined, for example by a new tunnel or by improving passenger transit facilities.

But, he added, the money saved from the HS1 link, which has been seen as a way of connecting northern cities directly with the continent, should not be funnelled into the Euston redevelopment. ‘Euston must stand on its own two feet,’ he said.

On the overall cost, Higgins said uncertainty over the project meant it would be irresponsible to the contingency budget for Phase One of the project and that it was too early to make a judgement on Phase Two, but accelerating Phase Two would open the door to more cost savings. ‘The more certainty there is about the timescale the more certainty there will be about controlling costs,’ he said.

Government welcome

The transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said the government supported the ambition to bring the benefits of HS2 to the North more quickly and that he would now commission HS2 and Network Rail to produce more detailed plans based on Higgins’ proposals so they could be considered as part of the public consultation on Phase Two.

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) also welcomed the proposals. ‘We see no fundamental engineering reason why the line could not be operational earlier than 2033 and experience around the world also indicates this is possible,’ said ICE director general, Nick Baveystock.

‘Government’s efforts to make the case for HS2 must continue and importantly, it should position the project as an integral part of a national transport strategy rather than a project developed in isolation. This includes further work to help strengthen connectivity for those locations not directly served by HS2.’

But Joe Rukin, campaign manager for the group Stop HS2, questioned whether the money for sufficient east-west connections would be delivered if HS2 went ahead. ‘If you had a national infrastructure plan you wouldn’t build HS2,’ he told The Engineer. ‘That’s the problem: it’s always been looked at in isolation.’

Readers' comments (11)

  • HS 2 is a wonderfull clean sheet allowing the UK to produce a new mass transit system, there is no existing infrastructure, none of the lines are being used, none of the tunnels or bridges has been built. The trains are not going to run on the normal systems and none of the traditional trains are going to run on the HS2 line, The only interface with other transport systems will be the passengers. But what are we building? A traditional rail line on a standard guage, sure it will go faster but we could do that with a small (relatively) amount of work on the existing lines if we were to have the will. Why not build at least a wider gauge, double decker trains, but no we are building Standard Guage that IKB escewed in the 1850's, 4 or 5 passengers abrest, we could build shorter trains that would seat 8 in a row, better occupancy, shorter gaps between trains. More than that why not develop Air Hover or Mag lev trains, the technology exists. We have years to develop the stock before the first goes on a rail! More than that it is a great project which if we could make it work would be something that only the UK could do and we could sell it for High speed links elswhere, just like the Victorians did,

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  • HS2 won't be a separate system - the plan is for some of the trains to run onto the existing railway lines north of Manchester/Leeds.

  • and the effect on Wales will be............

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  • The decision to shelve the HS1-HS2 link is, in my opinion, a mistake. It is less than 2% of the project. Changing stations In London will add at least half an hour to journey times between Birmingham and Paris/Brussels which might well be enough to persuade travellers to use air rather than rail.

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  • Why have those with vested interest been allowed to design a project that will be paid for by taxpayers? Mr Higgins is not independent, he works for HS2 ltd and his salary is paid for by you and me. Retrofitting HS2 into a national transport infrastructure plan would be like trying to push a square peg into a round hole. As the Davies review has been commissioned for airports, lets go back to the drawing board with HS2 please and have an independent review to decide what is actually needed to enhance our national transport network.

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  • Re Anonymous 2.07
    The review was done already - The Eddington Report 2008, now carefully hidden in the National Archives (already)
    Google it or try this link. Read the part about High Speed Rail.

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  • Ed 1.24PM, Kind of missing the point in your response. It would be perfectly possible to completely design a new system, and why do we need to reuse lines in the north?

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  • We're not saying we need to. But the fact is we are.

  • Ed 3.11 Why?????? When we could have designed a new system, from scratch? Hence my original point.

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  • We're not disputing your point. Just correcting one incorrect assertion.

  • reply to Alan Hone:2.32pm : Yes I think Sir Rod argued that economic returns from high speed rail in the UK are unlikely to be as large as for investment in some alternative projects.

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  • All of the recent comments simply asks us all to "take as read" that the case for HS2 has been made. Let us treat this as an engineering problem not a political one and define the problem before we invent the solution. Do we really think that the enormous increase in rail travel needed to make the HS2 sums work will really happen? I don't think so. However, let's accept that argument for a moment and consider the best solution to the supposed capacity issue. If capacity is the real issue then, surely, a high speed line with few stops isn't the answer. A higher design speed ensures fewer stops, fewer routing options, higher rolling stock costs, higher running costs, more difficult mitigation against noise, etc. The only reason to go high speed is that it is "sexy" and "keeps up with the Jones's". This whole project needs to be re-evaluated by looking at the real needs of the country in an honest way i.e. without over-inflating supposed benefits. I suspect that there is too much political face to be lost and too much vested interest for that to happen.

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  • Now that the reason being given for HS2 is to increase capacity why do we not take the solution that the air lines did? Concorde was delightful economic failure. The 747 and the latest A380 show that more seats is the best solution. The standard railway carriage has not changed much in 100 years. Just a tube sat on some bogies.Why not produce a really advanced double deck train along the lines of those running in Sydney Australia. I am sure our engineers could find a design that would add 35% to capacity and still be able to run at 125MPH

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