HS2 should allow for Cross-Country high speed services.

Alistair Lenczner

Failure to connect more cities south of Birmingham is a missed opportunity, says Alistair Lenczner.

It’s not fashionable to suggest that the South UK is losing out to the North UK when it comes to new railway projects, however in the case of HS2 this indeed can be argued. London aside, the south is being unnecessarily ignored by HS2 planners. HS2’s economic benefits could and should be shared by more of the UK to the south of Birmingham and in doing so would represent better value to UK taxpayers.    

A glance at the maps published by HS2 that shows that there will be 20 or more towns and cities in the Midlands and North UK that will be served by direct trains using the new HS2 railway. South of Birmingham, however, London is the only city that will be served by HS2. The opportunity to allow Cross-Country type train services between South West England/South Wales and the North West/North East to use HS2 does not appear to have figured in the thinking of HS2’s planners. 

Given that HS2 has still several hurdles to clear it gets a final political go ahead, its promoters should be looking at every opportunity to maximize its value to the UK.

David Higgins’s report “HS2 Plus” published earlier this year emphasized the importance of maximizing the opportunities for the HS2 project. The report rightly recognizes the importance of integrating HS2 with the existing rail network to maximize connectivity. So far, there seems to be a blind spot when looking for maximizing HS2 opportunities south of Birmingham. 

HS2’s poor connectivity at Birmingham is a case in point. Current HS2 plans at Birmingham places the new Curzon Street terminus station an inconvenient 15 minute walk from the existing rail hub at New Street Station and does not allow for through running of trains between the existing rail network and the new HS2. This not only goes against Higgins’s stated aim of maximizing HS2’s connectivity but also misses an opportunity to get better value from the HS2 lines to be built north of Birmingham.

A relatively simple change to the HS2 plans at Birmingham could significantly improve HS2’s connectivity and value for money. A chord connecting the existing New Street’s eastern approach lines to the new HS2 line where it enters Curzon Street station would allow shorter Cross-Country high speed trains from Cardiff and Bristol to continue high speed to Manchester and Leeds on the HS2 lines serving these cities. Such a chord would represent a very small cost in the context of the project but would allow significantly more of the UK to share the benefits of HS2. 

As well as reducing journey times from Cardiff and Bristol to Manchester and Leeds by 45 minutes and 1 hour respectively, allowing Cross-Country High Speed services to use HS2 north of Birmingham would make use of spare high speed line capacity on these branches. Thus, not only will more passengers benefit from HS2, the project itself would also be seen to offer better value for money.

Cross-Country high speed trains through Birmingham would need to be 200m long (rather than the 400m long trains envisaged for HS2 between London and Birmingham) to allow them to stop at the better connected New Street Station and other the existing stations they would serve south of Birmingham.   

Given that HS2 has still several hurdles to clear it gets a final political go ahead, its promoters should be looking at every opportunity to maximize its value to the UK. In this context, the introduction of Cross-Country high speed trains onto HS2 would appear to be an easy opportunity that should not be missed  


Alistair Lenczner is an independent transport planning consultant