HS2 station location – it’s worth getting this right

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2015

Jim Steer resize 635823306250970852Jim Steer, founder and director of high-speed rail consultancy Greengauge 21, says more thinking is needed now on the location of HS2’s stations, especially in Yorkshire.

Are HS2’s stations properly located? Soon enough the government is due to report its position on phase 2 of the project, the pair of limbs stretching northwards from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds. There is continuing debate, especially in Yorkshire – Sheffield and Leeds. Instead of the plans first drawn up in 2010-11, would it be better to have HS2 serve existing – but expanded – city centre stations instead?

Poor station location – a legacy of the Victorian era

It’s worth getting this right. Many English towns and cities have long suffered from poor station location decisions driven by cost considerations, and a lack of network integration dating back to the Victorian era.

The transport secretary is alive to the issue. At the Conservative party conference, he mentioned Yorkshire’s HS2 stations, saying that value for money would be the deciding factor. Over in Sweden, Crister Fritzson, CEO of train operator SJ, is openly questioning whether the planners have yet got the Swedish HSR (high-speed rail) project right – and in particular whether it is acceptable to plan HSR to reach cities but not their centres, which also serve as public transport hubs. It’s the whole journey, he points out, that matters for passengers.

Much improved design for Euston, no ‘retreat’ to Old Oak Common

In Britain, HS2 Ltd has now evolved a much improved design for the London terminus of HS2 at Euston. Neatly allowing a two-phase implementation, the latest version leaves existing platform capacity intact. While some questions remain (what is the best way to arrange passenger transfer with HS1 services at nearby St Pancras?), they are not insoluble. Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson has written to the secretary of state calling for a wider masterplan for the Euston area.

Euston visual, sept 15 resize 635823306080313455

With Crossrail 2 on the way, a new body that provides for local community interests as well as addressing commercial development opportunities would be a good way forward.

With ongoing local concerns, transport minister Claire Perry has rejected calls for a ‘tactical retreat’ to Old Oak Common: we are not going to create the problems SJ’s CEO fears in London at least.

Now for Yorkshire

But the effort taken to get to this point needs to happen in Leeds and Sheffield too. Value for money is especially hard to judge where the choices are between free-standing station designs and those that integrate more closely with local services. The choice cannot be evaluated by reference solely to the costs and benefits of the HS2 project itself. City-region connectivity is as important, alongside the views of local communities and business interests.

554 HS2 Phase 2 route as of Jan 2013   c. OpenStreetMap contributors

The Yorkshire stations need to be examined from a new perspective as far as HS2 is concerned. Ministers are keen to pick up a proposal to build the Yorkshire section of HS2 early, linking Sheffield and Leeds and bringing early benefits to what is a congested and slow part of the national network. This could strongly boost existing long-distance routes such as Newcastle – Leeds – Sheffield – Derby – Birmingham, and offer new city connections such as Bradford – Sheffield – Nottingham, needed to deliver the Northern Powerhouse. Responses to the HS2 phase 2 consultation made clear to the government that more connections between HS2 and the existing network were needed to support such services, reflecting the success of the Javelin trains running on HS1.

They would need to operate into existing stations – Leeds City and Sheffield (Midland) – rather than Leeds New Lane or an elevated station at Meadowhall. Both existing city stations are going to need rebuilds/extension anyway: adding HS2 into the mix is an addition to a pre-existing challenge. The value for money calculation that the secretary of state rightly calls for has to consider much more than the HS2 project benefit-cost ratio.

East-West Connectivity July 2014

Accelerating delivery of the HS2 route in Yorkshire

For political leaders persuaded of the benefits of high-speed rail, they can’t be delivered fast enough. This was the reasoning behind the creation of the new Infrastructure Commission chaired by Lord Adonis. Pace in delivery is dependent on having got the planning right – as Sir David Higgins has repeatedly made clear from his experience with the London Olympics. For Yorkshire, waiting for HS2 phase 2 – some seven years after the north west gets its HS2 services – is a concern. Accelerating delivery of the HS2 route in Yorkshire would help deliver east-west balance to the Northern Powerhouse.


Graham Nalty   07/11/2015 at 13:19

A brilliant and thought provoking article, but only scratches at the surface. As a user of rail services, I want high speed rail services to take me to city centre stations whether to visit the city centre or to make a quick, easy connection to onward to my final destination. Jim is so very right to say that the choice cannot be evaluated by the costs and benefits of the HS2 project by itself. The choice of station urgently needs to be evaluated against inter-region connectivity and the views of local communities. At Nottingham, the County Council wants a direct link from Nottingham Midland into HS2 to give a Nottingham to Birmingham journey time of 26 minutes. The East Midlands Councils also want this plus HS2 classic compatible trains from Leeds to Leicester and Nottingham because making these journeys at Toton with a change of trains offered comparatively little advantage over the existing services. Derby wanted the East Midlands high speed station at Derby. This would have delivered much greater regional connectivity gains and jobs than Toton and, in my humble opinion, is a much better station location. When evaluated objectively, Stoke is a much better location for a HS2 interchange than Crewe and would generate far more new jobs as well as improve inter region connectivity. Certainly Stoke needs better connectivity to the towns and the cities of the North West than can be achieved with a change at Crewe and journeys from Stoke to Liverpool average only 28 mph or less. Through trains from Stoke to North Wales, Liverpool, Blackpool and stations on the WCML up to Scotland would work wonders for inter region connectivity from the East Midlands as well, and by doing so I calculate could add up to 5 million extra rail journeys. Surely it is now time to decide that the well used phrase 'Change at Crewe' becomes a thing of the past.

Brian Powell   04/12/2015 at 22:11

I totally agree with Graham. Stoke is a large city not a small town like Crewe and needs anything it can get to help it develop out of its old (and closed) coal and steel industries. Graham are you thr HiFi man?

Lutz   02/01/2016 at 17:03

I find it surprising that no mention is made to the location of the Birmingham terminal in relation to New Street Station. I am sure the service will attract patronage, but the lack of integration will impair interconnection between HS and local services. I also hope disappointment will not be too great when it becomes evident that the projects do not bring the economic benefits that are being claimed of them. We have been here before, and all the claims came to nothing. It is also interesting to note that those previous investments where made at a cost to those centres where the investment would have been most beneficial and thus all parties concerned lost out.

Steve Ryszka   12/01/2016 at 20:21

I find it astounding that HS2 plans to carry passengers at high speed from London to Meadowhall (!) where passengers will then have to disembark the HS2 trains and wait for a Pacer to take them in to Sheffield. Yet the former Great Central Railway (formerly four track from Woodhouse Junction to Sheffield) which was built to accommodate continental trains carries one train per hour in each direction. HS2 trains should travel in to the former Sheffield Victoria Station giving a fast direct link in to Sheffield City Centre - which is what is needed! Not standing in the cold at Meadowhall!

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