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”.
- High Speed Two Ltd – http://www.hs2.org.uk/
[Image credit: “Whhhhhiiiiiieeeeeeehhh…” by Stig Nygaard on Flickr]