Northern cities reveal £15billion rail plan to unite

A new 125mph trans-Pennine rail route, giving greatly reduced journey times between the north of England’s leading cities by 2030, is a key goal of a transport strategy launched under the banner One North: A Proposition for an Interconnected North.

The plan responds to HS2 Ltd Chairman Sir David Higgins’ call for the North to maximise the benefits of HS2 by developing connectivity between its cities and with airports and ports. 

But it also reflects the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ theme of Chancellor George Osborne, to whom the strategy was presented in Manchester on August 5, as well as the concept of treating Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds as one linear city for the purpose of economic development. 

If implemented in full the ideas in One North, which include improved road and air connectivity as well as rail, would cost
£10 billion to £15bn. Rail would take by far the greatest share.

The strategy also calls for a new 140mph-capable route to be built between Newcastle and Darlington, shaving ten minutes off journey times south from Newcastle, and giving the capacity necessary for growth on Tyneside. 

Additionally, it says HS2 should be delivered to Sheffield and Leeds earlier than currently planned, and that HS2’s London-Birmingham Phase 1 should be extended to Crewe.

Improved rail services on the existing network, to help cities develop more freely, will require more electrification, new rolling stock, higher service frequencies and the removal of network pinch points, the strategy says.

Beyond the investment in the northern rail network that is already planned, the report also raises the prospect of cross-city suburban rail links for Leeds, Liverpool (east-west), Manchester and Sheffield, but most notably in Bradford, where a “north-south link such as a tram-train or similar” is suggested. Such a link between the city’s two terminal stations was rejected by Bradford Council in 2011 (RAIL 663).

Rail freight is also important: “The new trans-Pennine route could also deliver an integrated east-west rail freight capability linking the major ports and north-south rail routes, connected to a number of major rail-linked distribution centres that can reduce industry’s trading cost base.” 

Such a route would be built to the largest loading gauge, to permit unrestricted rail transport to/from ports, and “could also be used for Eurotunnel-style lorry shuttles”.

It is envisaged at this very early stage that the trans-Pennine route (while not truly high speed, it could be dubbed HS3) would have a delta junction with HS2 somewhere between Leeds and Sheffield. This would allow direct services from both those cities to Manchester, as well as a direct route to Manchester Airport and Liverpool.

The report also looks at rail services in the Randstad area of Holland and the Rhine/Ruhr area of Germany, where all nine European cities cited have a higher Gross Domestic Product Per Capita than any of the five Northern City Regions. 

It notes that the Dutch cities have more frequent trains than the English (nine per hour between Amsterdam and Rotterdam), and that the German cities have faster journey speeds (five trains per hour average 65mph between Duisburg and Dortmund, for example). 

By comparison, the report says, there is one fast train between Leeds and Sheffield per hour (averaging 57mph) and one between Liverpool and Leeds (averaging 47mph).

The five City Regions that are jointly part of ‘One North’ (Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool) will now focus on developing investment programmes “to deliver our ambition”.

It is expected that in October, Higgins will deliver his report on the northern phase of HS2, including initial options for the cross-Pennine fast rail link. The Chancellor will then announce more on this theme in his Autumn Statement in November.

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