HS2 can ‘only be as good as local rail connections make it’
It is of vital importance that investment in the conventional rail network continues over the next 20 years during the development of HS2 to ensure that West Yorkshire becomes “truly HS2-ready” and the project’s benefits can be realised from the get-go, regional leaders have said.
In board papers published ahead of a Transport Committee meeting on 24 February, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) argued that the mammoth high-speed programme “can only be as good as our local rail and transport connections make it”.
The region’s own £1.4bn West Yorkshire plus Transport Fund (WY + TF), alongside other transport improvements in Leeds proposed as part of its interim strategy, will help to “kick-start the pathway towards creating an integrated network in a sub-region level”.
But it is fundamental that investment in local networks presses on while HS2 is being built so that its benefits can be fully realised from day one. In its papers, WYCA specifically asks for a “series of enhancements to local services, in terms of frequency, journey time and capacity”.
To support this, it cited the Yorkshire Rail Network Study, produced alongside Sheffield City Region, which highlighted economic benefits of £12bn of enhancing “the rail network for the entire region and beyond”.
“The HS2 Growth Strategy will identify additional capital investment in the existing infrastructure. For example, there are additional benefits to improve connectivity on certain rail corridors to further improve accessibility to the HS2 network,” explained the paper.
“This is not just about access to the stations within West Yorkshire but also, for example, improvements on Penistone line which will help Kirklees and South Yorkshire districts accessing HS2 services via Sheffield.
“Needless to say, the timely delivery of all the committed enhancements is fundamental. These include the improvements committed in the current franchises, the Trans Pennine Route Upgrade and the Northern Hub programme.”
Further modernisation and electrification of core regional rail routes, such as the Sheffield, Calder Valley and Harrogate lines, alongside enhancements on the East Coast Main Line (ECML), will also “help to realise the maximum economic and social value of the HS2 project”, WYCA added, reiterating its defence of quick ECML upgrades previously reported by RTM.
The combined authority also re-ignited Leeds City Region’s calls for HS2 to be “built from the north”, which, in practice, could mean opportunities to phase construction so elements of phase 2b are opened earlier than the whole route. In particular, it should also mean that Leeds station could be redeveloped as soon as possible.
“HS2 provides the prospect of transformational change giving a major boost to our economy as well as creating opportunities to release constraints on our local and longer distance rail networks,” argued WYCA.
“However, given the long timelines and the late start date (2027) of the Leeds phase, bringing forward the northern route is vital to the economy of this region. This will have the additional economic benefits in frontloading construction jobs and delivering the benefits sooner.”
The authority is also urging HS2 Ltd to consider the various “junctions” that it argues are needed on the region’s rail network, such as the junction between HS2 and the classic Leeds station, the junction east of Leeds and the junction at the north of Sheffield. It added that it would be happy to work with Transport for the North and HS2 Ltd to develop these junctions further so that they could be included in the hybrid bill.
Including these junctions in addition to the consultation route of HS2 serving Sheffield city centre would “bring significant benefits”, it said, such as enabling HS2 classic compatible and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) services to efficiently serve Sheffield, Leeds and places further north.
“Similarly, for NPR to appropriately serve the north, the network needs to allow for fast and frequent services between cities,” the board papers read. “For example, both Leeds and Manchester are both destinations in their own right and are key points on the network through which services need to travel seamlessly onto further destinations.
“The stations in these cities therefore need to be configured for NPR as through stations to allow for good onward connectivity without unnecessary delays in turning trains around.”
Significant enhancements are already lined up for Leeds City Region’s “very capacity-constrained” network through franchise commitments, the Northern Hub programme and the TransPennine route upgrade, but WYCA argued NPR will open up even further opportunities for improvements within and across the area.
Capacity on the east of Leeds was listed as a particular concern for the region, with four-tracking being a vital development as part of the NPR proposal.
Responding to HS2 Ltd’s consultation question with regards to the northern junction in the vicinity of Clayton, WYCA said it supported the principles of the idea “if the new route is taken forward by government” and provided that it minimises the impact of communities and the environment through which it passes.
“The proposed northern junction should be developed in parallel with the South Yorkshire Parkway options so that the proposed parkway can be served by both HS2 and NPR services to maximise the benefits of the parkway station and to ensure that benefits can be distributed more widely in Yorkshire,” it added.
“We would be grateful if WYCA could be involved and consulted in the development of the northern junction together with the development of HS2 services specification beyond Sheffield.”
(Top image c. Joshua Brown)