Rail Industry Focus


Classic-compatible services will also boost economic growth

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2015

Duncan-Sutherland-Photo resize 635823356446218778Duncan Sutherland, non-executive director at HS2 Ltd, speaks to RTM about the progress being made with HS2 and the impact on Scotland, Liverpool and other places where there are no current plans to build physical high-speed infrastructure.

Many people’s mental vision of HS2 begins and ends with the physical infrastructure – the new tracks, tunnels and stations linking London and Birmingham with Manchester, the east Midlands and Yorkshire.

But, of course, classic-compatible HS2 trains will also be capable of leaving the new infrastructure and continuing their journeys on the existing network, including to parts of Britain where there are no current plans to build new high-speed track.

That point was reiterated by Duncan Sutherland, non-executive director at HS2 Ltd, when we spoke to him after Greengauge 21’s recent National High-Speed Rail Conference in Glasgow. He said he understood why cities like Liverpool, Stoke, Edinburgh and Glasgow have been so keen to see physical high-speed infrastructure, but insisted they would all still benefit from HS2 even without it.

He said: “I do understand where they’re coming from. It’s great that they want it – the same happened in France, cities wanted the train to come through.

“We have got a limited budget, in these stringent times. We’re trying to get the best value for money out of the budget. Liverpool will get classic-compatible trains, and they will get them fairly quickly. That cuts the timing down quite dramatically from Liverpool to London, for example. And it’s not just about London – it’s about Birmingham to Liverpool, Liverpool to Scotland, those types of [routes] as well.”

HS2 to Scotland

A possible extension to Scotland is still under review. In May, HS2 said there was “no business case” for extending the infrastructure from Manchester to Glasgow, and from Leeds to Edinburgh. But a new study, commissioned by the Department for Transport and Transport Scotland, is examining the options in more detail. Sutherland said: “We’re working those options up now, appraising them and analysing them. We’ll be reporting back to the two governments at the end of the year. The hope is that we make an announcement around February.”

Scotland’s cabinet secretary for infrastructure, Keith Brown MSP, said: “This long-awaited and important study will furnish us with feasible route options and is a welcome development, putting our campaign to bring high-speed rail to Scotland back on the fast track.”

After the Glasgow conference, we asked Sutherland for his analysis. He said: “The mood is very positive. They would like HS2. They would like it quicker, and for some improvements to start north of the border. But that’s all part of the feasibility work we’re doing. They also want high-speed rail between Edinburgh and Glasgow.”

Economic growth

Sutherland’s professional background is in economic development and urban regeneration. He’s bringing that experience to bear as a non-executive director of HS2, working with councils and businesses on economic growth.

“We’re looking, in partnership with local authorities and stakeholders, at what happens around all of the stations. We need to be doing that now and working up strategies – which Birmingham, for example, are doing with their strategy around Curzon Street…Manchester have got a plan that they’re out to consultation on, Leeds is preparing their plan at the moment. Everyone’s really getting geared up now, and trying to start that economic development well before HS2 gets into operation.

“At the conference, I gave the example of Lille, starting on Lille Europe [station] probably five years before the high-speed line came through from Paris. Now they’re the second largest business centre in France, from a pretty low base.”

Gare Lille Europe. Photo by hakzelf

The next year

The High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill has been inching its way through Parliament since November 2013, and the select committee examining it has been hard at work. The huge number of petitions against the Bill made it clear early on that Royal Assent would be unlikely before late 2016. The government has been making changes to the phase 1 route during the Bill process.

Sutherland said: “We’re doing a lot of work now in terms of making sure the governance is correct and that we’ve got the right project management in place, before we start building. We’ve already gone through quite a few procurement events to get contractors up to speed.

“We’re pretty well prepared, given that Royal Assent probably won’t be until the end of next year.”

After the Glasgow conference, Greengauge 21 founder Jim Steer (who writes for RTM here) reiterated the need for HS2 to cross the Anglo-Scottish border. He said: “The northern end of the West Coast Main Line has just as much a capacity problem as the southern end. Existing appraisal assumptions prevent a proper value being put on the extra capacity required. And the three-hour journey time target can be achieved without a whole-length new route.

“As a first stage, the aim should be to get as close as possible to a three-hour journey time for Edinburgh and Glasgow as soon as HS2 to Birmingham opens in 2026 – the notion of splitting high-speed trains at Carstairs was a nonsense, adding 10 minutes, and should be ditched.”


Moomo   05/11/2015 at 19:05

Duncan Sutherland is being disingenuous. There are no proposals for an HS2 service between Birminham and Liverpool. The only proposal on offer envisages SLOWING the current Brum-Liv service by re-routing it via Cannock and Walsall, thus making a poor service worse.

Mark P   09/11/2015 at 16:06

“At the conference, I gave the example of Lille, starting on Lille Europe [station] probably five years before the high-speed line came through from Paris. Now they’re the second largest business centre in France, from a pretty low base.” Given Liverpool has such a large gap between its present economic output and what it should have, I would have thought it be obvious to someone involved in regeneration that Liverpool getting only peripheral benefits from classic compatible services while its peer group powers ahead is not going to help it close the gap. And yet above Sutherland talks about how a city came from a low base to be a business powerhouse thanks to high speed rail. Liverpool should always have been on the map, and a "tight budget" isn't a good enough reason as to why it isn't today. I would also be very interested to hear how this is also "about Birmingham to Liverpool, Liverpool to Scotland". Liverpool gets no HS2 services to Birmingham under present plans, instead its services will be a whole hour longer than than those available to businesses in Manchester. As for Scotland, there is no high speed rail track at all towards Scotland and no announced agreement to do so. There is also no freed up capacity for Liverpool (citing the freed up capacity report that states this). Liverpool's situation in 2027 is the same as it is in 2015. I'm all in favour of Liverpool being given its fair share of the HS2 pie, however the opportunity for trying to promote classic compatible services as equal to captive has long, long gone. And wouldn't in any case address the massive shortcomings of this project with regards to one of the UK's major cities and economy.

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