Posted 8th February 2024 | 7 Comments

Mayors set out three alternatives to HS2 north

The Mayors of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands have set out three alternatives to HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester, which was scrapped by the Prime Minister last October.

Andy Burnham and Andy Street announced their ideas at a joint press conference in Birmingham.

They have been joined by former Network Rail chief executive and HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins to prepare proposals which would mainly be funded by the private sector. They have formed a consortium which includes engineers such as Arup, Skanska and Mace while they have also been able to brief transport secretary Mark Harper, who is keeping ‘an open mind’.

Yesterday’s media event was staged on the same day that the Commons Public Accounts Committee had published a highly critical report about the remaining section of HS2 between London and Birmingham, describing it as ‘very poor value for money’ following the repeated cutbacks.

Andy Street said the cancellation of HS2 Phases 2A and 2B to Crewe and Manchester was a ‘tragedy’, and that the West Coast Main Line and M6 had no spare capacity, which meant alternatives were needed.

Andy Burnham said ‘doing nothing’ was not an option, because that would damage economic growth. He continued: ‘The country won’t be able to move in a timely way if we just do nothing,’ adding that relying on the existing rail and road links would leave the country with ‘a serious transport headache for the rest of this century’.

The options are to build a new railway on the same alignment as HS2 but one designed for a lower maximum speed to reduce costs, to upgrade the West Coast Main Line, or to add new WCML sections, effectively bypassing bottlenecks.

HS2 has been designed for 360km/h. Andy Street explained: ‘The key difference is obviously the question of speed. A lot of the cost in HS2, if you ask the design engineers, has come from this very uncompromising point about the speed. 

Andy Burnham said it was ‘significant’ that ministers had given permission for HS2 and Network Rail to be involved in preparing their proposals.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • david C smith, Bletchley

    From 186 mph as an upper limit, on specific suitable stretches , down to 125mph as a range of realistic speed limits for intercity type infrastructure. As a related bit of information, the "Pendolino" design is established in several continental countries, with the latest generation having a 155mph (250 kph) max. speed. The combination of tilt with these sorts of speeds ought to be able to fulfil the aim for all intercity journeys in GB to be acheivable in under 3 hrs. , resulting in rail having the majority of the inter city market over the whole country.

  • simhedges, EXETER

    I think that going for a speed of less than 150mph is defeatest. I'd like to see the cost of a 186mph line - the original APT speed.
    [APT running at 186mph/300km/h on the West Coast Main Line? What is your source for this? -- Ed.]

  • david C smith, Bletchley

    This is one reason why the HS2 project has come off the rails. 360 / 400 km / hr is unneccessarily fast. Once a joiurney takes under three hours, experiencc has shown , there is a steep increase in patronage , reason being that day return journeys become ffeasible and the train beats the ' plane , city centre to centre. There is little point in going faster still.

    In this country, the longest main line intercity journeys are appx. 400 miles . 400 miles in 3 hours gives an average speed of 133 mph (214 kph ), which could be acheivable on a basis of tilting train plus higher speed ( 250 -300 kph )stretches as cutoffs wherever they would be the most cost - effective.

  • Jamie C, Derby

    Glaring factual error in this report for a Rail article. HS2 infrastructure has been designed for 400km/h wherever possible. The rolling stock on order has a design speed of 360km/h. That will be the maximum operating speed of the trains on launch of services, but future upgrades to stock could allow 400km/h running. Reducing the infrastructure design speed north of Birmingham would hamper any future speed increases.
    [No longer. The maximum was reduced from 400km/h to 360km/h some time ago. See,create%20a%20400m%20long%20train. We are Railnews, and have no connection with any other title.--Ed.]

  • mr david barry, Wallasey

    the trains ordered dont seem to have any tilting capability which is ok for HS2 and the extension to Manchester. It seems that planners are not really bothered that Scotland FAST via the WCML has only happened by using pendolinos.So will tilting replacements be ordered whatever line or connections to HS2 are built or is Scotland to suffer slower trains?

  • Stephen Dearden, New Mills

    Unless the complete failure of project management on HS2 is addressed before any further development northwards that too will fail to materialise.

  • John Porter , Leeds

    This is good news what matters is 130mph on average or BETTER running to the North West and Scotland - with some high speed running and some conventional speed.
    Unfortunately in 2015 when DfT sought potential alternatives to HS2 Phase2a, as is usual, someone ignored that study’s three alternatives with similar or better Benefit to Cost Ratios BUT with short sections at lower speed. Greenguage has published the details.
    So I’m not surprised the Mayors’ study has found 3 alternatives, which like DfT’s 2015 study improve connectivity and journey times north of Birmingham and deliver similar benefits quicker than the full HS2.
    As well as the Mayors strategic approach one needs to make appropriate passive provisions, including from HS2 to the Birmingham to Derby line. That was unwisely rejected in the Integrated Rail Plan - which favoured instead a more costly separate HS2 line to Trent Junction.
    Space on that Derby line can be created by diverting Cross Country Nottingham via Derby to Cardiff services via Leicester and Birmingham Moor Street - a route upgrade already funded by the Prime Minister’s recent announcement.
    More space can be created for HS2 trains to reach Derby from London within 60 minutes instead of the MML aspiration of 85 minutes. Dividing HS2 trains at Curzon Street and Birmingham Interchange would allow HS2 trains to replace the Birmingham New Street & Airport to Sheffield, York and beyond Cross Country services.
    HS2 trains could even reach Nottingham if some further trains divide at Derby, rather than running 12car variants of HS2 trains; A better use of the rolling stock order than having to pay for reducing the order.
    Doing all the above requires HS2 to be able to access WCML platforms at Euston for a few services and retaining the planned short 3rd tunnel on the Euston approaches.