Northern transport links to be overhauled as Cameron pledges backing to HS3, despite continued resistance to HS2

The subject of whether HS2 has been and will be a viable, beneficial project is ongoing and vociferous. We have written on the matter before; exploring a comparison between modern day and Victorian era infrastructure investments and looking at the possible impact on flooding in the context of the devastating floods of last winter.

The argument looks set to be further complicated, however, by the introduction of plans for HS3 – a high-speed rail link, tying together the North’s biggest and most economically significant cities – Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Leeds, York and Newcastle.  In a report compiled by Sir David Higgins entitled ‘Rebalancing Britain’, in which the primary focus is an analysis of the HS2 plans and an attempt to maximise the benefits, Sir David explored the possibility of HS3 in response to criticism that HS2 may risk ‘sucking economic growth’ out of the North and into London. Introducing additional high-speed links across the North may help to counter this, by ‘spreading it evenly across the country’.

If it were to go through, estimated journey times from Leeds to Manchester would be cut from 48 to 26 minutes – increasing greatly the viability of commuting between the two; something only 0.5% of the respective populations do currently.

Sir David states:

“I firmly believe that substantially improved services east-west across the North are not only desirable, but possible. We need to turn the aspiration into a practical plan.”

He goes on to say that the plans are “as important to the north of England as Crossrail is for London”.

As with HS2, however, HS3 is not without its critics. While the proposed HS2 route would have a maximum speed of 225mph, the suggested speed for the new trans-Pennine link would be around 125mph. That’s the same as trains currently running on the West and East Coast Main Lines, though the cost is estimated to be around £7bn – reputedly more per metre than HS2.

Chancellor George Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron have enthused about the idea, however, and Mr Osborne said in June that a high-speed link between Manchester and Leeds could help to create a “northern global powerhouse”. They are now instigating a ‘Transport for the North’ body, made up of the main northern city regions and tasked with producing a strategy for the region to present to the UK Government.

Regardless of the criticism leveled at HS2, therefore, it seems that England is set for a number of new high-speed rail links over the next 20 year period.

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31.10.14                                                                                                                                               SRJ

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