The Prime Minister announced his decision on HS2 on 4 October 2023, the last day of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, held at Manchester Central, ironically Manchester’s former Central station which hosted the prestige Midland Pullman train from Manchester to London. This is a factual briefing and will be updated when more is revealed on timescales and funding. Blue Pullman at Manchester Central in the sixties, from disusedstations.org.uk.
The HS2 project has already been cut back in stages, including scrapping the badly designed Leeds branch replaced by a branch to East Midlands Parkway. but now the whole HS2 project is scrapped except Phase 1 which is already committed and largely constructed.
The plan to scrap the Euston to Old Oak Common section which would have rendered the curtailed line pointless, has however been abandoned.
The Part completed Euston HS2 station will be constructed but the HS2 management team will be taken off the job.
HS2 will run from London Euston via Old Oak Common HST station (Interchanging with the Great Western Man Line and the Elizabeth Line), to Birmingham Interchange (people mover interchange with Birmingham International, the NEC and Birmingham Airport).
The HS2 route continues to a new stub Birmingham Curzon Street, served by tram, as planned. The associated schemes in Birmingham – the Midlands Rail Hub and extensions to the Midland Metro light rail system were re-announced (as also essential to the success of the Birmingham HS2 leg).
The critical branch to join the West Coast Main Line just north of Birmingham at Handsacre is included. This will allow HS2 trains to continue on the existing route to Crewe and on existing congested passenger/freight lines to Manchester, Liverpool, North West England, Scotland and North Wales.
The HS2 route from Birmingham beyond Handsacre to Manchester Airport a new stub end station in Manchester is scrapped.
The focus moves to plans to upgrade the A1, the A2,the A5 and the M6 announced on the day of another rail strike forcing everybody to use these routes. The Shipley bypass and the Blyth relief road get a mention alongside 70 other road schemes. Resurfacing the nation’s roads is also a priority.
The emphasis moves dramatically from rail to road, except in the West Midlands.
The silly Northern Powerhouse name adopted by Boris Johnson is dropped and replaced by Network North, although this is not defined. There was no mention of devolution of rail services to Transport for Greater Manchester. The announcement includes ‘safeguarding finance for a Liverpool to Manchester route curiously worded as “linking up trains”, not high speed plus a new station in Bradford with a 30 minute journey time from Manchester. We need far more detail on what is envisaged here, and timescales, to be in a position to comment objectively. If there is commitment to the former Northern Powerhouse Rail project, the Prime Minister would presumably have said so. It would be dangerously naive to welcome this change of emphasis until we know the facts. Words like safeguarding are always a worry.
Two specific rail electrification schemes are mentioned and welcome. The North Wales Coast Main Line will be electrified as will be the Hull to Leeds route. We presume the section between and York will be too.
On light rail building, a Leeds tram system is mentioned although this is at a very early planning stage as it has been for many years. Need for some action here. Nothing new here.
One line is mentioned for reopening – the Don Valley, a short section of the closed down Woodhead route from Sheffield to Stocksbridge. This is not a commitment to reopening the Woodhead route. Other more significant proposals such as reopening Skipton to Colne do not get a mention.
Mr Sunak received a standing ovation for these announcements with a clear inference that Westminster knows best what the North needs. Stakeholders based in the north may think otherwise. The whole package comes over as the result of the PR department trawling every scheme on all modes in the pipeline or already announced, many of which are miles away. This is standard practice although the emphasis clearly moves from rail to road.
Birmingham is the clear winner (or non loser) and Manchester, the clear loser, where the consolation prizes are not properly defined with spade ready proposals.
Railfuture will continue dialogue with stakeholders and provide updated briefs based on facts as they emerge. In the meantime we are not joining the standing ovation.
Government announcement of Network North
Railfuture press release