Mayors put forward alternatives to HS2 scrapped northern section

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, and Andy Street, the Tory mayor of the West Midlands, have joined forces on alternative and cheaper plans for the scrapped section of HS2, warning that “to do nothing is not an option”.

Burnham and Street shared a stage on Wednesday to put forward three options after the government abandoned the long-promised northern section of the high-speed rail line.

The mayors said their largely privately funded alternatives would cost “considerably less” than HS2, although no precise figures existed at this stage.

The mayors have created a consortium chaired by Sir David Higgins, a former chair of HS2, which involves private engineering and finance companies including Arup, EY, Skanska and Mace.

It follows the cancellation, announced in October, of the northern leg of the HS2 line to Manchester. Rishi Sunak promised instead to divert £36bn into alternative transport schemes known as Network North.

Street said the cancellation of the northern HS2 line was a tragedy. With the west coast mainline and the M6 motorway at capacity, alternatives had to be explored, the mayors said.

Burnham said that to do nothing on rail capacity between the West Midlands and Greater Manchester was not an option because it would damage economic growth.

“The country won’t be able to move in a timely way if we just do nothing,” he said. It would leave the UK with “a serious transport headache for the rest of this century”.

One option revealed on Wednesday is to build a segregated line such as the one planned for HS2 but with lower maximum speeds, reducing costs. The completely new line option would be roughly the same line as the scrapped HS2 section, Street said.

“The key difference is obviously the question of speed,” he said. “A lot of the cost in HS2, if you ask the design engineers, has come from this very uncompromising point about the speed.” HS2 trains will run at up to 225mph.

Burnham said the northern leg of HS2 was always “one of the less complicated parts of the network” because there was no tunnelling needed. The new line would be mostly for passengers, meaning freight could go on the existing west coast mainline.

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Street said the possibility of trains stopping between Crewe and Manchester on a new line – unlike under the plan for HS2 – would be considered, but “there won’t be 10 stops”.

There are two other options. One is to enhance parts of the existing west coast mainline, which Street said would have “minimal capital cost and relatively little advantage”. The third is to add bypasses to the busiest sections of the west coast mainline.

Burnham stressed they were not proposing HS2 “by the back door. That decision was made and we have accepted it.”

The mayors met the transport secretary, Mark Harper, last week to discuss the work and said they had “constructive, positive” talks.

Harper had “indicated an open mind”, Burnham said, and it was significant that ministers had given permission for HS2 and Network Rail to be involved in their proposals.


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