Manchester Transport blog says “meh” to High Speed 2

It’s time to declare: Manchester Transport blog isn’t particularly enthusiastic about high speed rail. We can see the arguments for, and we think additional capacity on the mainline to the south will be needed at some point in the future, but we’d rather the money was spent on transport closer to home. Of course that’s not going to happen given the government has an ideological aversion to ongoing subsidy – despite all the money leaving privatised industries in the form of shareholder dividends. It is however quite happy to “invest”, today announcing the go-ahead for the first-phase of High Speed 2 (HS2) to be constructed between London and Birmingham.

The initial section of HS2 will be built between London and Birmingham because that’s the busiest section of the West Coast Main Line: there are already four lines between Rugby and Watford, with six lines between there and Euston. It’s not possible to squeeze a few extra trains in here and there during the peak hour, and existing trains are already being lengthened towards 11 and 12 coaches long. What happens after those are full?

The West Coast modernisation of the late 1990s/early 2000s cost a lot of money and caused a lot of disruption: building extra tracks along this route would follow a similar pattern. So building a totally new railway would offer better value for money – and if you’re doing that, you may as well make it high speed, like the French did with their Train à Grande Vitesse in the 1970s.

Phase 2 would be to extend from Birmingham to Manchester, probably with a stop somewhere near Stoke-on-Trent. (There’s another branch to East Midlands and Leeds but not our area.) Plans beyond that are vague: consultation on the route will begin in 2014 but the line would not be fully operational until 2033. By moving the fastest trains between Manchester and the capital onto HS2, that would free up more space on the existing network for regional passenger services and freight trains.

There’s been much talk of the economic benefits (up to £47 billion once complete) and also of the north-south divide. We remain to be convinced on whether HS2 will bring more economic activity to the regions through decentralisation, or whether the south east will consolidate its position as economic powerhouse only one hour eight minutes commuting distance each way from Manchester via HS2. Probably a bit of both, but the construction industry will certainly be pleased.

Of much more interest to us are projects that will impact directly on commuters in the north-west such as electrification, increased frequencies and additional carriages on the region’s short/busy trains. We’ll return to high speed rail once more details are available on the proposed route into Manchester city centre, but until then – “meh”.

[Image credit: “Whhhhhiiiiiieeeeeeehhh…” by Stig Nygaard on Flickr]


About James McCollom

Web geek and public transport user
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7 Responses to Manchester Transport blog says “meh” to High Speed 2

  1. Currymile says:

    The way is see it, the main problem with High speed rail is, our country is too small. I mean after billions of pounds and decades of waiting, it will reduce the journey from London to Birmingham from 1h 24 mins to 50 mins, not worth it. It does knock off a third of the time, but its a short journey as it is.

  2. Ian says:

    Agreed, we shoud be investing in local services. By a coincidence, 1h24m is the same time by train for my 13 mile commute to work (totally within GM area). By comparison, my car journey is normally 30 min, an hour on a bad day.

  3. Paul Reid says:

    You think too small methinks. The present railway network was created in a process of unbridled free for all competition. It lead to Beeching’s axe falling 150 years later. The HS2 route represents the spine of a new, PLANNED network as exists in virtually every other European country. Whilst I abhor the need to crucify open green countryside for HS2’s construction, I abhor the alternative of ever expanding road construction even more. HS2 ain’t perfect, but it’s much better than anything we’ve done before, road or rail.

  4. Watcherzero says:

    Im a firm believer in the capacity argument having seen it myself. While it saves half an hour to Birmingham it would save an hour between Manchester and London, almost halving journey time.

    Im also not a believer that it will magically boost the economy but the benefits from reduced congestion and revenues will make the scheme break even and you will have thousands employed operating the new network. Im not suggesting the job creation rate justifies it, you have similar arguments in naval shipbuilding but if something breaks even and creates new jobs whats the point in not doing it?

  5. Trystan says:

    Given that I will be 50 when this is finsihed (and I’m 28 now) I must admit that I’m not particulary excited about this annoucement and I am a true rail fanatic. The Northern Hub has made me salavate with enthusiasm more.

  6. Martin Petrov says:

    so “meh” is largely due to the fact that there’s no firm detail on how it will affect Manchester? or that it’s going to be 20 years before it arrives in Manchester? or “meh” to the overall idea of building a brand new rail link at all? On balance, it has to be a step in the right direction – the “why are we spending £32bn just to save half an hour” point that appears everywhere (including the above comments….) completely misses the point that this is about capacity, and thinking long term – the fact that it would be 25% quicker is just a nice by-product, but that’s the thing that appears to make the headlines. It all stems from the problem that we built these railways 150 years ago, and while it’s very impressive that they’re still used today, they’re getting ever more congested and the only real solution is to think big and think long term.

  7. Pingback: High Speed 2 preferred option to Manchester revealed | Manchester Transport blog

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