HS2 could link the North to Europe

4th February, 2013 7:00 pm

The Government’s HS2 plans were opened to public consultation last week and broadly welcomed by business and political leaders in the north of England.

The economic benefits are clear – in my own city of Manchester alone, up to 30,000 station-supported jobs are expected to be created and the additional rail capacity will make room for freight and ease the gridlock on our roads.

As the driver of Greater Manchester’s economy, the effects of this investment in Manchester will be spread across the city region. Furthermore, a dedicated link at Crewe will spread the benefits across Cheshire and significantly reduce journey times to and from Liverpool. The link to the West Coast Main Lane north of Crewe will bring benefits to Wigan, Preston and beyond.

Ed Miliband’s proposal this week to create 33,000 apprenticeships to work on the construction of the line could help to reduce the chronically high youth unemployment in the North West, with 120,000 youngsters currently out of work in the region.

What got me really excited is the potential link from HS2 to HS1 to create the possibility of direct trains from Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham to Paris, Brussels and beyond.

Of course this isn’t a new idea. Direct Regional Eurostar trains from Manchester to Paris were built and tested in 1997, but journey times and the rise of low cost airlines meant that it wasn’t a feasible option at that time. Those specially built trains now service domestic passengers in France. However, evidence suggests that rail is competitive with air travel for journey times of up to 4 hours. HS2 brings Birmingham within 3 hours of continental Europe and my fellow Mancunians could hop on a train at Piccadilly and be sipping coffee in a Parisian cafe three and a half hours later.

With the rising costs of budget airlines and regular complaints about poor service, competitively priced direct trains from Birmingham or Manchester to cities like Paris could shift large numbers from air to rail travel. Projections carried out by HS2 of potential passenger numbers on direct trains from Birmingham to the continent suggest around 5,000 people a day could opt for rail over short haul air travel. Direct trains from Manchester to Paris could have the potential to attract a significant number of the almost half a million passengers who flew from Manchester Airport to the city of love in 2010.

Linking to the wider European high speed network at Lille could link English towns and cities north of London to dozens of cities on the continent’s vast and growing high speed rail network for the first time.

The Government should amend its plans and create a direct link between HS2 and HS1 rather than using part of the existing North London Line as proposed to increase capacity and speed up journey times. Furthermore a link to Heathrow on the HS2 line linking to Manchester Airport and to HS1 could reduce the need both for internal domestic flights from Manchester to London and also for short haul flights from Heathrow to Europe, reducing carbon emissions and freeing up capacity at both airports.

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  • Quiet_Sceptic

    Trouble with schemes like this is it’s difficult to know which provides the most benefit, sure direct trains to the continent might be nice but how much would it cost and how many would actually use it?

    Would the money be better spent on, say, improving the Trans-Pennine express – it still takes 50 minutes to go between Manchester and Sheffield!

    • Alexwilliamz

      Yes stronger more efficient connections between the regional centres is the way forward the londoncentric focus of our infrastructure is a major problem. Everything is about connecting london to places, this in reality just continues to benefit lobdon and its dominance if our economy

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      It should not be too difficult for a data-gathering exercise to count passenger numbers from Manchester and East Midlands airports to European cities, and compare with car journeys / local rail journeys from Sheffield to Manchester, and to annualise the results.

  • Passenger numbers on HS1 ( the Channel Tunnel line) remain at one third of their original forecast (giving the taxpayer a multi-billion tab to pick up prompting the Public Accounts Committee to say that HS2 has to fundamentally revisit its basic assumptions) and Eurostar has failed to meet passenger forecasts in every one of its 15 years of existence. TfL also opposes the proposed link between HS2 and HS1and without their agreement the link cannot happen. Against this background I feel that talk of ,coffee in Paris in a few hours is the nonsense it was the first time round.

  • Alexwilliamz

    Even better a fast efficient east west raillink turning hull into a transport hub to europe for the north (it already does this a bit). After all most of europe is actually to the east of calais especially the growing bits.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      THere was (or still is, I do not know the current status) a plan to upgrade the A14 from Harwich to Birmingham for exactly that reason, and indeed also a road / rail interchange point for the container lorries and cargo trains between the A1 / A14 / East Coast Main Line somewhere near to Huntingdon. If my understanding is correct, it was one of the schemes to be cut or postponed in 2008 when the scale of the crisis became clear. It would take a lot of traffic off the M25. But the principle you highlight is entirely correct.

      There should also be some upgrade of the approaches into Leicester. I wanted to attend a lecture one evening at Leicester University, but I was completely “defeated” by the Leicester traffic system****. One hour to travel about two miles, and I was too late for the lecture. But that is a merely personal frustration!

      **** Has no one in the UK heard of the concept of synchronised traffic lights? They are quite common in other countries.

  • rekrab

    I’d reckon that these new fast train lines will be operated by electrical overhead lines, so on that note is there a national combined idea to increase electrical capacity?

    • LembitOpiksLovechild

      Rekrab, Don’t Worry. Chris Huhne as Energey Secretary sorted that one. They’re going to attach windmills to each train so that the windmills can generate the electricity to drive the trains as they move forward. After all, windmills are the answer to all our energy needs.

  • MrSauce

    Just to be clear: I like trains. But…
    HS2 is a very expensive waste of money.
    Maybe the trains should be designed with big flappy ears and a trunk on the front.

  • Chilbaldi

    An unfortunate side effect of the Manchester link will be that it will suck away all investment that would have gone to Liverpool.

    Unless Liverpool gets its own station the city will be screwed by this. The Crewe station is nowhere near good enough and people are living in dreamland if they think this will produce tangible benefit for Liverpool.

  • Redshift1

    What I don’t understand is why they don’t build the high speed rail between Leeds and Manchester (and then Newcaster and Liverpool on either end) BEFORE they start connecting us to London. You can already get to London is a reasonable time given the distance. It’s the time between northern cities that is the biggest problem.

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