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HS3 line ‘vital’ for improving east-west connectivity – Higgins

Plans to develop HS3, a high speed rail link connecting northern cities, which will “significantly reduce” journey times across the region, have been backed by the government. 

In Sir David Higgins’ latest report – ‘Rebalancing Britain: from HS2 towards a national transport strategy’ – it has been suggested that HS3 will be of “vital importance” to improve east-west connectivity across the north. 

The HS2 Ltd chair added that with a high speed link, the journey time between Leeds and Manchester could be cut from around 55 to between 26 and 34 minutes. 

East-West Estimated Journey Times

Sir David’s review of the second phase of HS2 endorsed the two planned routes joining the first London-Birmingham line to Manchester and Leeds, but stressed that urgent additional work was needed to forge “transformational” connections from west to east. 

The report has also recommended that Crewe should be the location for the northern ‘hub’ station, meaning Stoke-on-Trent will miss out. Sir David has suggested extending the line to the south Cheshire town by 2027 – six years earlier than originally planned. 

North West Hub Connections

The former CEO of Network Rail said either a new tunnelled high-speed route or an upgraded rail link through existing but unused tunnels through the Pennines were possible options. The improvement could also involve a doubling of trains per hour. 

He will draw up an interim report on the potential HS3 line by March 2015. 

“Improving connectivity is vital if Britain is to compete in the knowledge economy, in which this country has a competitive advantage, but in which ease of travel is an essential element,” said Sir David. 

“Reducing the journey times between and within our cities isn’t just desirable for both passengers and freight. It is a strategic necessity.” 

In response to the report, the chancellor has announced the creation of a new body called ‘Transport for the North’ made up of the main northern city regions. This will body work together with other authorities and stakeholders and allow the north to speak with “one voice” on the big decisions to benefit the region as a whole. It is not yet known what relationship such a body would have to the existing Rail North, or whether it would replace it. 

George Osborne said: “Today we take another big step forward in delivering both the HS2 links from north to south and the HS3 link across the Pennines. 

“On the back of new transport infrastructure, science investment and civic leadership we are well on our way to turning the Northern Powerhouse into reality.” 

654 Osborne

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, representing Network Rail and rail operators, added that the UK’s railway has been transformed in the last 15 years and phenomenal growth in passengers and goods moved by rail is playing a crucial role in keeping the nation competitive in a global economy. 

“Sir David Higgins’ latest report underlines how HS2 will become the backbone of Britain’s growing railway, linking up our major Northern cities and helping to meet the challenge of demand for more passenger and freight services,” he added. 

Katja Hall, CBI deputy director-general, added that the report sets out a clear blueprint for the next phase of HS2. “Businesses throughout the north will welcome Sir David's commitment to boosting growth, jobs and investment across the region,” she stated. “Any proposals must be well thought-out and the business case water-tight.” 

But Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, argued that the union has led the fight for expansion and modernisation of rail services in the north but it is “cynical in the extreme that the cheerleaders behind today's announcement, the government and Rail North, are the same bodies threatening to devastate jobs and services through the new Northern and TPE franchises”. 

He explained: “RMT will not tolerate this rank hypocrisy and instead of jam tomorrow, light years off in the future, we are demanding an expansion of services and capacity now , rather than the proposed cuts, and that is the message we will be taking to parliament in our lobby over the northern franchise carve-up on the 4 November.” 

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) added that Sir David’s report was good news for cities like Leeds and Manchester who've been crying out for the powers and budget to transform their transport networks. 

“The challenge will be to make sure this is felt not just in the big cities, but right across the north. We now need to see details of the powers Whitehall is offering, and how quickly they can be rolled out,” said Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner at CBT. 

He stated that the chancellor needs to make sure progress with high speed rail goes hand in hand with upgrading the rest of the north's rail network. 


“Many passengers are still travelling on ageing diesel Pacers trains and some have even seen ticket prices double on evening Northern Rail services,” stated Abrams. “They will be hoping for coherent improvements from the new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises this year, not just grand plans for HS3.” 

Dr Colin Brown, director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, added that having a clear plan provides confidence and allows for forward planning, which is critical for keeping costs down. 

“The skills need for such major projects cannot be created overnight,” he said. “The talent and expertise from people delivering projects like Crossrail are national assets which must not be lost forever through a lack of vision.”

(Images: c. HS2 Ltd)

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