Majority rules: We must build HS3 first

The UK’s recent vote to leave the EU has cast doubt on what most industries once perceived as ‘business as usual’. Across rail, there were many questions around the viability of major infrastructure projects that rely on European contracting and, with the appointment of a new transport secretary, nothing – not even the biggest national programmes – was certain anymore.

One of the major threats was HS2. The National Audit Office warned that balancing the high-speed project with other major infrastructure schemes would be more challenging than ever after the referendum, and even HS2 Ltd’s director of finance and operations said he was worried about the long-term impact of Brexit on the £56bn scheme.

Just this week, the influential Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) also came forward to bring some fresh perspective to the table: that work must, in fact, be brought forward on HS3, even if this means that it takes priority over HS2 or Crossrail 2.

This certainly didn’t prove to be a standalone opinion. A short poll of RTM readers prove that the majority support the IPPR’s calls, with 76% of the 327 surveyed readers believing that the north has been starved of rail investment for too long and needs to catch up urgently through the ‘North First’ HS3 strategy proposed by the think tank. The remaining 24% believed HS2 must first provide north-south connectivity before any east-west rail link is built.

Many readers came forward to verbalise their opinions, with one arguing that with or without Brexit, the north “cries out for better rail services”.

“Re-instating the Woodhead line and reconnecting Colne and Skipton to provide to two more Trans-Pennine routes would be a start, and enhancing the Diggle route would improve matters,” the reader said.

“As for HS2, forget it. Many of us don't want it and its enormous potential disruption and cost. Re-open the ex MR route to Manchester to alleviate the West Coast Main Line congestion and provide direct connection to Derby, Leicester, etc. once again.”

Another commenter, however, disagreed with the decision to write off the need for high-speed trains running north-south as part of a national rail plan, regardless of the restorations needed up north.

“We have a network that was built piecemeal then fragmented by closures. So why are we dreaming up new bits of railway piecemeal? Another article in this issue points out that planned works are getting more and more expensive. We can have everything we want for the money available if it's planned as a single national network,” the commenter added.

Graham Nalty, another commenter, added that the IPPR plan was “very sensible” given northern cities need “far better rail services, and they need it now”.

“HS2 is far too much about faster rail services to London at the expense of connections between cities. So why does HS2 Ltd suggest a fast route to Leeds that bypasses Sheffield?” Nalty wrote. “The people of Sheffield should decide whether the HS2 interchange station should be at Victoria or Midland – or even if they do not want HS2.

“The new proposals from HS2 Ltd have not looked in sufficient details at the Birmingham to Leeds HS2 trains, which would take about 30 minutes longer if they served Sheffield – the largest intermediate station – rather than using the proposed fast bypass route. This would be a nightmare for any commercially minded rail operator. Build the high-speed lines in the north first.”

Other readers, such as Michael Bell and Ted Jackson, argued HS3 is “absolutely necessary” and needs to be a priority over HS2 “to open the cross-northern trade route and between the east/west ports”.

Some, on the other hand, suggested the strategy was an unrealistic expectation altogether, either because “the north does not matter to the Conservatives” as it is a Labour heartland, or because it was the north that “voted for Brexit” in the first place.

But perhaps the most sensible commenter was the last to give his opinion, ditching polarised sides of the debate to argue that we, in fact, need both lines: “We are taking too long. We should be building HS4 by now.”

(Top image c. Michael Fox)

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James   12/08/2016 at 14:58

I may be viewing this very simply, but why should either scheme take priority over the other? Work on HS2 is progressing well with construction set to begin next year. If HS3 was given priority now, what would happen to HS2? Is the North really expecting that HS2 will just sit there and wait doing nothing until HS3 has been built?

John Burns   12/08/2016 at 17:37

In March the National Infrastructure Commission's report, "High Speed North", recommended collaboration between TfN and HS2 Ltd. on the design of the northern parts of HS2 and HS3. The Institute of Public Policy Research this month urged the government to prioritise HS3 over HS2. As HS2 has 'sort of' been designed either side of the Pennines, I would say it needs a 'serious' re-think to accommodate say Liverpool using HS3 then branching into HS2. Similar with all cities, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. The current idea of the ridiculous big HS2 S bend around Tatton (miraculously Tatton is Osborn's seat) and running via Manchester Airport and into Manchester Piccadilly via a gold plated branch tunnel may, and should, go. Even terminating at Piccadilly does not make sense any longer as Manchester Victoria is the logical station for HS3 and HS2. Even having Piccadilly station does not makes sense when a new big flagship station could emerge at Victoria making Piccadilly redundant. The building of the Ordsall Cord was the first nail in the coffin of Piccadilly. The Port of Liverpool needs a line into the city ASAP to give capacity for increased freight due to the new post-Panamax container terminal and biomass terminal. Economists assess that HS3 will defiantly create economic growth while HS2 in its current form will have negative impact on some cities. If HS3 is built first, having branches onto the WCML, ECML and MML, will improve existing services using classic lines to London and Birmingham. The Manchester service from London could run via the MML and then east through a Pennines tunnel, also alleviating capacity on the WCML. For many reason, it all makes sense to build HS3 first with a view of HS2 coming along - if it ever does ever get further north of Birmingham or Crewe of course.

Peter Gordon   19/08/2016 at 13:46

HS2 will certainly make the UK more London centric. You can argue whether this is a good or a bad thing. My solution would be to build branches of most of the cultural and economic facilities in London in the north - it would cost a lot but I bet that the increased growth and tax take would more than compensate. This would require enhanced links in the north (look to the Ranstadt in the Netherlands) which I would rank way ahead of HS2 which looks too much like a testosterone fuelled "lets go faster" vanity project. The argument about lack of capacity on the conventional network is actually correct. However I reckon that whereas increasing capacity on the existing network (for example four tracking the Chiltern Line and using it as the main route to Birmingham to relieve capacity on the WCML) would remove the need for HS2 and don't think that the reverse is true (although taking sensible steps such as easing gradients so that freight trains can use it at night would help). Since we are not going to be able to afford HS2 and a major upgrade of the conventional network lets go for the latter.

Alan Marshall   19/08/2016 at 15:50

Readers should take sound note of the letter, responding to IPPR (North), published 13 August in The Guardian from Professor Ian Wray, of University of Liverpool’s Department of Geography and Planning, and David Thrower, who co-authored with the late Prof. Sir Peter Hall the proposal for HS3. They state that HS3 is still only “an outline concept” and “yet to be sufficiently planned, even as a broad corridor on a map”. They add: “HS3’s planning is many years behind HS2’s.” And they conclude: “To delay HS2’s construction so that HS3’s planning can be accelerated is unnecessary and could even put both at risk. The two schemes are complementary, and there would be no advantage to HS3’s planning in such a move. To delay HS2’s first phase would simply create uncertainty at a time when the UK economy needs exactly the opposite.” QED, I think.

John Burns   08/09/2016 at 12:13

@Ian Marshall, I disagree with Professor Ian Wray. If HS3 is to merge with HS2 each side of the Pennines HS2 at these points needs re-designing. That is clearly obvious. The likes of that ridiculous HS2 S bend in Cheshire and the 7.5 mile tunnel, and tunnel under Crewe station can clearly be dropped. If HS3 design is accelerated and HS2 is a secondary project, in that its design is changed to suit HS3, and HS3 is built first. We may find that the project, HS2, with highly suspect economic points will not be built. Why would HS2 not be built? Because trains that run on existing tracks are getting faster and faster (e.g, Alstom are building a 182mph tilting train to run on existing tracks), negating the need for high-speed rail in the UK. These trains can also use HS3 to access cities. So, we need HS3, which gives positive economic benefits connecting clusters of cities over 100 miles which have the combined population of many mid sided European countries. HS3 must be a priority over secondary HS2. HS2 gives negative economic benefits to some cities.

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