Train journey times between the north of England’s biggest cities would be halved under plans published today for new high-speed rail services across the Pennines.
The scheme, promoted by the head of the £50bn HS2 project, would slash the travel time between Leeds and Manchester from 55 minutes to a maximum of 34 minutes.
The improvements would cover an east-west section of northern England and would be in addition to the north-of-Birmingham phase two of HS2 which will see a Y-shaped route going to Manchester and Leeds.
HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins said northern connectivity plans - dubbed “HS3” and backed by Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne - would be “as important to the north of England as Crossrail is for London”.
The plans, if carried forward, would mean journey times between Leeds and Manchester could almost be cut in half while journeys between Leeds and Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield Meadowhall, York and Birmingham and Nottingham to Birmingham could also be reduced by a half or more, and many more journeys across the country substantially shortened.
Phase one of HS2 involves a new high-speed line from Euston in London passing through Tory heartlands in the Chilterns to Birmingham, with an expected completion date of 2026.
Phase two was originally scheduled to be completed in 2032/33, although Sir David is keen for this date to be brought forward.
The project is strongly supported by the Government but is bitterly opposed by some councils and residents along the phase one route.
Sir David’s four main proposals are:
• Need to take forward both legs of the proposed HS2 Y-network - the alternatives will not bring the same capacity, connectivity and economic benefits;
• Improve the rail services between east and west - sharply reducing journey times between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull will stimulate local economies. Sir David says the journey from Leeds to Manchester could be cut from today’s average of more than 55 minutes to somewhere between 26 and 35 minutes, depending on which option is chosen, and the number of trains could be doubled;
• Northern cities should speak with one voice - local authorities from five key cities should join together to form a new body. Sir David suggests calling the group Transport for the North.
• Set out a timetable to develop a new transport strategy to decide on an approach for improving rail and road connectivity across and within the region north of Birmingham.
In addition to these recommendations, the report sets out a series of conclusions from Sir David’s review of the proposals for phase two of HS2. These include:
• To continue with the planned route into Manchester city centre via the airport - keeping open the option to add a new airport station;
• Need to review the best station solution for Leeds to include provision for increased east-west services through the city;
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said: “There’s no point developing north-south links without promoting the connectivity of the cities in the North.”
The shadow Transport Secretary, Mary Creagh, said: “Labour supports high-speed rail to improve the connections between cities in the North and Midlands and London.”