Rail Industry Focus


Strong case for light rail integration with HS2

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 15

Norman Baker, former light rail minister; Paul Buchanan, partner at Volterra Partners; David Ralph, chief executive of D2N2; and Martha Grekos, partner and head of the planning and infrastructure team in London at Irwin Mitchell, discuss the opportunities for light rail integration with high-speed rail.

Last year the HS2 Growth Taskforce stated that if the project is to truly help cities achieve their economic potential, the location of phase 2 stations is “hugely important”, whether it be city centre, hub or parkway stations.

The ‘High-Speed 2: Get Ready’ report added that international examples of high-speed rail demonstrate that multi-modal access to and from stations is a “major factor of success”.

During this year’s 10th Annual UK Light Rail Conference in Nottingham, Norman Baker, former transport minister, said there is a strong case for having light rail connections near high-speed stations up and down the line to ensure people “seamlessly move from high-speed rail to another mode of transport” that gets them into the city centre.

Speaking during a lively panel session, Baker added: “My view is that light rail is the best solution to get people from place to place. I think people will move from rail to rail if the connection works. They will not move from rail to bus in the same way.

“However, there is a need for HS2 to be far more imaginative about what they are doing in terms of light rail. I fear that HS2 is, at the moment, focusing on its core line. It is not looking at the connections from city centres. That is not sensible from HS2’s point of view but also for light rail.”

He added that HS2 is a great opportunity for light rail, as this is going to be where growth areas will be in the future, but the light rail industry needs to be more effective at lobbying and getting involved with the DfT and HS2 in making sure they are part of the planning now.

Prior to the panel debate, Paul Buchanan, partner at Volterra Partners, gave a short presentation highlighting that transport doesn’t create economic growth but does enable it.

He noted that cities are growing incredibly quickly and they are growing because of the centres more than anything else. Speaking honestly to the full room of delegates, he said: “I don’t think high-speed rail should be stopped outside of city centres. The market for high-speed rail is city centre sites. That is where it is most competitive. You lose most of the time gained from high-speed rail if you have to use another mode to get into cities.

“I think if you are doing a light rail project you should think of it as a development project,” said Buchanan. “If you are using it as a way of getting development of the route into the city as well as just transporting people it could work reasonably well, but not as well as having a station in the centre in the first place.”

David Ralph, chief executive of D2N2, the local enterprise partnership (LEP) for Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, added that he has worked on regeneration programmes for the past 25 years, but the single most important intervention he’s ever been engaged with is the Docklands Light Railway extension to Lewisham and Greenwich.

“In terms of economic development that project far outweighs any other project I’ve worked on for delivering an impact,” he said. “But I do believe that HS2 will deliver the single biggest economic impact of a generation for the East Midlands, assuming it comes reasonably quickly and assuming there is a rail hub station.”

The location of the HS2 station in the D2N2 patch has been controversial, with Derbyshire politicians wanting it in their area rather than at Toton in Nottinghamshire. But now Derby City Council has also backed Toton, which could be connected by extending the Nottingham Express Transit system to the location, Ralph said.

However, Martha Grekos, partner and head of the planning and infrastructure team in London at Irwin Mitchell, argued that people need to stop thinking that HS2 “might happen”. “It is definitely going to happen,” she said. “I’ve been advising HS2 Ltd and there is a lot of commitment behind this. We need to be thinking about how we bring projects forward to assist HS2.

“We really need to develop a counter-balance to London and various authorities need to come together and work in collaboration rather than against each other. The biggest fear that I have is that there will be Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds or whatever authority not working together to take it forward.”

Baker, Buchanan and Ralph said rail devolution also presents great opportunities, provided a rigorous case is put forward. 


Graham Nalty   22/07/2015 at 13:58

Norman Baker is right. the best place for high speed rail stations is in city centres. The so called 'hub' at Toton mentioned in the article can not be expected to bring as much growth to the East Midlands as would high speed trains calling at Derby and Nottingham city centre stations. it is a good example of the saying 'falling between two stools'. The connections to heavy rail from HS2 are much more important than light rail, but we do need a lot more light rail routes in city centres and all transport modes should be able to take people from their homes in the suburbs to the city centre station.

David Faircloth   28/07/2015 at 20:25

The greatest weakness of the present HS2 plan is that it has been seen as something independent; by contrast, in continental Europe and on our own HS1 the new high speed rail infrastructure has been seen as an add-on to, and an integral part of, the existing network. Also, the plans ignore the fact that the closer trains get to London, the greater the loadings. So if HS2 was to be looked at as a method to increase capacity into London, to maximise the number of large towns/cities linked to London and each other (using existing infrastructure for the metaphoric last mile to existing city centre stations and by having portion trains), and to allow passenger trains to run at higher speeds, the network would still be a 'Y' but would slightly different. Derby and Stoke would be natural centres to join/split trains, and - if a few new connections were to be constructed - Nottingham, Hull, Chesterfield, Sheffield, Wakefield, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Bradford, Harrogate, Chester/North Wales, Stockport, Wolverhampton, Telford, Shrewsbury - to name but a few! - could all be linked DIRECTLY to London by high speed trains. Moreover, fast and frequent services could be introduced - say a portion train every twenty minutes to Sheffield; and something like a very high speed metro is really needed if HS2 is to re-balance the economy.

Jeremyb   03/08/2015 at 22:46

David Faircloth is absolutely right. The isolated nature of the current HS2 proposal is a bad mistake. One change that should be simple is to make a connection to allow through running to Birmingham New Street and on to other places in the West Midlands and beyond. As things stand the time saved in getting to the proposed Curzon Street terminal in Birmingham will be thrown away if you are travelling to Wolverhampton for example.

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