HS2 east leg scrapped in Integrated Rail Plan

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The government has published its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), with a £96bn investment into rail construction and upgrades for the Midlands and the North.

Image credit: Alex Daniels/Shutterstock

Announced yesterday (Thursday 18th November), the plan promises to deliver benefits ‘sooner than previously expected’ with journey times described as ‘the same as, similar to or faster than the previous proposals’.

The build of HS2 will continue with the next phase to be completed from Crewe to Manchester, but the majority of the Eastern leg — originally proposed to go from Birmingham to Leeds — has been scrapped beyond the East Midlands. A new high-speed line will be built between Birmingham and East Midlands Parkway, and trains will continue to central Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield via an upgraded, electrified Midland Main Line.

Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) build plans have been scaled back with most of the work to be undertaken as upgrades or electrification of the existing TransPennine line. A new high-speed line will be built between Warrington, Manchester and Marsden.

The Department for Transport said that Transport for North’s options for full new build high-speed line were ‘carefully studied’, but would have taken up to a decade longer to deliver at the cost of an extra £18bn whilst delivering just a four minute journey time improvement between Leeds and Manchester.

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Upgrading and electrification plans include the complete electrification of the Midland Main Line from London to Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield, and full electrification of the TransPennine Main Line between Manchester, Leeds and York. An additional £625m in new funding has been confirmed to progress the TransPennine route upgrade.

Andrew Cullis, risk analyst at risk management company Equib commented: “While it’s disappointing that HS2’s vision to provide a catalyst for economic growth in the North of England won’t go as far as Leeds, this announcement is good news for a number of key rail programmes that are already underway – including the Transpennine Route Upgrade connecting Manchester, Leeds and through to York.

“Plans to electrify the entire 76 mile route (TransPennine Main Line) and invest in digital technologies, offering improvements to both capacity and performance, will give commuters access to state-of-the-art rail services from 2027 – far earlier than what would have been achieved by the Eastern leg of HS.”

Cullis added that the focus on upgrading existing infrastructure rather than building new infrastructure will mean cost and time overruns are less likely, providing greater assurance to taxpayers that their money will be well spent at a time when public spending is ‘soaring’ due to the pandemic.

Also announced in the Integrated Rail Plan was a new mass transit system for Leeds and West Yorkshire supported by £200m immediate funding, London-style contactless pay-as-you-go ticketing to be introduced across the Midlands and the North, and a study assessing the best way to take HS2 trains to Leeds, including capacity at Leeds Station.

According to the DfT, journey times under the new plan would see HS2 East run from central Nottingham to Birmingham in 26 minutes - cut from over an hour - whilst Leeds and Manchester would be connected by NPR in 33 minutes compared to 55. HS2 West would run from London to Manchester in one hour 11 minutes, and from Birmingham to Manchester in 41 to 51 minutes compared to 86 minutes today.

The DfT said it ‘became clear’ that originally proposed plans for the full HS2 and NPR schemes would have cost up to £185bn, and not entered service until the early to mid 2040s.

Responding to the news, the High-Speed Rail Group described the IRP as a U-turn that ‘significantly dents confidence in the sector’. A spokesperson from the group said that HS2 is the ‘single most important infrastructure project in the UK for decades’ with ‘enormous’ benefits to be felt by generations to come.

“If today’s announcements had come from a standing start, the industry would doubtless have been pleased with the investment. But the reality is they represent a reduction in the previous plans for both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail,” the HSRG spokesperson said in a statement.

“It is welcome that today’s announcement confirms that the vast majority of HS2 will go ahead, in addition to other upgrades including line of route improvements, some electrification, and some new lines, but the cut-backs are a huge disappointment, particularly to the communities they affect and particularly given the commitment to deliver HS2 ‘in full’ which has been made by the Prime Minister countless times over the last twenty-one months.”