There are rumblings from the north that if George Osborne wants his Northern Powerhouse to succeed then an HS3 linking Manchester and Leeds should be built before HS2. Michael Wand agrees.
If HS2 is launched super-speed from Euston as proposed, it might bring Birmingham to within an hour's commute of central London but it would also bring Birmingham's business areas into London's one-hour rail commuter catchment. It would make London even more dominant within the UK and risk setting the North South Divide in stone. But it need not happen like that.
The corridor of northern cities stretching from Liverpool and Preston in the west to York and Hull in the east has an economic and skills catchment big enough to become an economic counterweight to London, but its key parts are not fast-connected. The Lancashire and Yorkshire rail networks serve their own parts of the corridor, but they are kept at arms length by one of England's major economic barriers, the Pennines.
HS3 would offer a one off chance of easing the London-ward bias in the UK economy and to give the North a one-off (but lasting) boost from fast east-west connectivity. But if HS2 Stage One is built before an HS3 that opportunity risks being lost.
However, if an ‘HS3′ were built through this barrier and fast-connected Manchester Victoria to Leeds, it would both halve the current rail time between the two city centres and at the same time join up a Northern Cities Crossrail that took half an hour out of cross-Pennine rail journeys between the corridor's city centres. More east-west time savings would arrive with line electrifications and track upgrades east of Leeds and west of Manchester. And a north-south stage would add Bradford and Sheffield-Rotherham. It would then look like the map.
The Northern Cities Crossrail route is show in bold red on the map. A north-south second stage would add Bradford and Sheffield to the system.
The Crossrail would join the northbound ECML near Church Fenton, close to the best two options for a new Leeds-Bradford Airport: Church Fenton, currently an RAF base and Elvington, previously an RAF base. Both (like areas of mid-Lancs) are in territory with potential for the type of garden city developments foreseen by the Wolfson Prize winners in September.
The Crossrail would be for HS1-speed, not HS2-speed trains, probably successors to the inter-operable Class 395 commuter sets running on HS1. The writer's HS2 Plan B extends the Crossrail scheme south via East Midlands Airport to St Pancras International, either terminating next to its Eurostar platforms or running through St Pancras Thameslink to interchanges with the London Crossrail at Farringdon and the Gatwick lines at London Bridge.
Building an HS3 through the Pennines and opening the Northern Cities Crossrail would change the parameters and route for HS2 all the way back to London. It would offer a one off chance of easing the London-ward bias in the UK economy and to give the North a one-off (but lasting) boost from fast east-west connectivity. But if HS2 Stage One is built before an HS3 that opportunity risks being lost.
Michael Wand is retired. He was Strategic Adviser to the HS1 route-planning team, 1990-94, and Chief Development Surveyor, London Docklands, 1981-84.
His HS2 Plan B website is at: http://hsnorthstart.wordpress.com/