Integrated Rail Plan and all that

Idle thoughts of an HS2 Sceptic..
A few thoughts on yesterday’s announcement on HS2 etc. – ‘The Integrated Rail Plan’. Speaking personallly, I have never been keen on HS2, a highly over-engineered scheme which would benefit the major city centres (London in particular) at the expense of everywhere else. It’s interesting that the IRP admits that the plans for HS2 to Leeds would have given many towns a worse service. It’s bizarre that there’s so much adverse comment coming from Yorkshire people about the plan when actually they do quite well out of it, on the whole.
There has been a huge amount of ill-informed tosh talked about the announcement, the fact is the original HS2 project had long since veered out of control with costs mounting to astronomic levels. Add on the effects of the Pandemic and long-term changes in travel patterns, a fundamental review of the project was necessary.
There is quite a lot that has not so far been in the public domain and it is worth looking at the full document for yourselves. My own view is that it’s an improvement on what was on the table before but still many questions. Taking HS2 into Manchestr Piccadilly with a new 6-platform surface level station will be massive challenge, working out a route from Manchester Airport. Will it do anything to resolve the problems of the Castlefield Corridor? Probably not, and it will be a long time coming anyway. Remember that Stockport, Macclesfield and Stoke all lose out from HS2 with fewer and probably slower trains. There is reference in the Plan to one HS2 service an hour serving them.
It sounds like Crewe will keep its existing station (unless I missed something) offering much better links to services to North Wales, east Midlands via Stoke, etc., with a link back onto the HS2 route into Manchester Airport and the city centre. It keeps its options open about taking HS2 services northwards, suggesting that the original ‘Golborne Loop’ may be scrapped. So a likely scenario is that HS2 will head north on existing WCML tracks, which could be enhanced, with Warrington being a major interchange with ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’.
Folk in Wigan have always assumed HS2 would be a benefit but I have my doubts and suspect that it will not feature in HS2 stopping patterns (it never has done as far as I can see). Warrington, Preston and Lancaster will benefit – Wigan has a job to do in getting HS2 services to stop there. It might just help make the case for its own bi-level station connecting Wallgate and NW with better integration between local and InterCity/HS2 services.
Forging a new west-east route from Liverpool to Leeds, connecting into HS2 at the Airport (a strong proposal of IRP), has much to be said for it, with a bi-level interchange at Warrington. But, again, getting into central Manchester will be very difficult and the new route eastwards to Huddersfield (not Bradford) makes sense on a sheet of paper but also poses engineering challenges. Presumably it will use re-opened or re-bored Standedge tunnels (currently there are two disused single bores).It’s good news that freight is being taken into account and there will be capacity and gauge clerarance for container traffic.
Getting beyond Huddersfield into Leeds will be hard work – the LNWR decided to build a new line from Mirfield into Leeds in 1900 to relieve congestion on its Dewsbury route. You certainly won’t be able to use the existing infrastructure without completely screwing local services.
It’s all politics, and staying in Yorkshire it’s disappointing that electrification of Calder Valley will only go from Leeds to Bradford. There will be massive disruption to the Huddersfield/Standedge route over the next 20 years and having an electrified alternative, via Bradford and Hebden Bridge, would have brought many benefits. But much still to play for.

By Paul Salveson

Paul was born in Bolton in 1952, one day before the Harrow and Wealdstone rail disaster. He has had a varied career, mostly to do with railways, mixed in with adult education, journalism, politics and community development. After a 25 year exile he is back home in Bolton. He is a visiting professor at the Universities of Bolton and Huddersfield and chairs South East Lancs Community Rail Partnership

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