Higgins' HS2 report fires starter gun for HS3 and northern transport revolution

Even before HS2 phase two to the north has been confirmed, Government has given the go ahead for development of HS3 connecting east and west of northern Britain and cutting journey times between Leeds and Manchester in half.

And Chancellor George Osborne has kick started devolution with the announcement of the creation of a new body called Transport for the North made up of the main city regions  to allow the north “to speak with one voice on the big decisions to benefit the region as a whole”.

“Improving connectivity and reducing journey times between our great northern cities is a crucial part of our long term plan for the north to boost businesses and create more jobs and security for hardworking people. That is why we are backing HS3,” said Prime Minister David Cameron.

"This is as important to the North as Crossrail is to London."

Sir David Higgins

Government was responding to a new report by HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins published today following up his HS2 Plus document last March.  Sir David's  report ‘Rebalancing Britain – from HS2 to a national transport strategy’ sets out how Phase Two of the £50.1bn railway could be part of a much wider transport strategy to improve east-west connectivity in the north. Improved rail services Sir David said “were as important to the north as Crossrail is to London”.

In the report Sir David also fine tunes his thoughts on the Phase Two route detail.

And he calls on the local authorities of the major northern cities to join together to form a single Transport for the North organisation – a proposal now taken up by Government.

Building on the One North report published by five northern cities earlier this year, he proposes that the new group establish a strategy to improve road and rail connections across and within the region north of Birmingham.

“Increasingly HS2 is no longer thought of as a stand alone end in itself, but rather as a catalyst for a much bigger process of change; it is one essential element in a strategy for transforming our transport system and therefore our economy as a whole.”

He highlighted the importance of connectivity in increasing productivity. “One fact stands out: labour productivity in London is 50% higher than that in the north as measured by gross value added per hour worked. Improving connectivity is one key factor essential in addressing that gap.”

Sir David also:

  • said that HS2 Phase two had to include construction of both branches of the Y network to Leeds and Manchester at the same time to bring capacity, connectivity and economic benefits
  • stuck with his choice of Crewe over Stoke on Trent as an addition to phase one of the project to create an interim step to the north by 2027
  • hinted that a thorough redevelopment of Leeds station could be needed to cope with increased east-west services and HS2
  • conceded a rethink on the exact siting of an east midlands hub at Toton
  • stressed that HS2 had to learn from international rail projects how to construct high speed rail quicker and for less.

Government responded to the last point by launching a review into the costs and time it takes to build high speed rail “drawing on international experience to find ways to bring down the costs of Phase Two and future high speed rail projects".

Government will make a final decision on the HS2 Phase Two route next year. It has asked Sir David to do further work “on how to maximise the significant benefits HS2 will bring to Scotland”.

Working with Transport for the North, Government says it will "now produce a comprehensive transport strategy for the region. This will include options, costs and a delivery timetable for an HS3 east-west connection." An interim report is promised for March 2015.

Sir David Higgins on HS2 Phase Two

"The strategic proposal for Phase Two is right. There should be an Eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds via the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, and a Western leg from Birmingham to Manchester via Crewe. Building both legs is the only way to deliver the strategic reductions in journey times and extra capacity that are needed, and to do so on an equitable basis."

"The proposed hubs in the East Midlands and in South Yorkshire are, on balance, the best solutions to deliver the benefits of HS2 to their regions as a whole, and to achieve the best fit with the existing network. There are some modifications in the report."

"The proposed North West hub should be at Crewe because that is the best way to serve not just the local region, but also provide services into the rest of the North West, North Wales and Merseyside. I strongly recommend that its delivery should be accelerated to 2027 instead of 2033 so that the North, and Scotland, begin to feel the benefit of HS2 as early as possible. I also recommend that the possibility of running classic compatible services to Stoke on-Trent, Macclesfield and Stockport be investigated."

"By the time Phase Two is complete, the existing station at Leeds will need to be remodelled, so there is a clear need for a fundamental review of the best solution for the city considering growth in existing rail services, and the introduction of HS2 and potential new East-West services."

"I firmly believe that substantially improved services East-West across the North are not only desirable, but possible. We need to turn the aspiration into a practical plan. At present the journey from Leeds to Manchester takes anything from 48 minutes to over an hour. Initial work by Network Rail suggests that, taking into account current plans and further work, that journey times could be cut to somewhere between 26 and 34 minutes with double the number of trains per hour. That, plus further planned electrification and upgrades, would also reduce the journey time from Liverpool to Leeds from nearly two hours to one hour, and cut thirty minutes off the journeys from Manchester to both Hull and Newcastle. This initial work needs to continue, and intensify, to identify the best route, how and when it could be constructed, and its cost. This is as important to the North as Crossrail is to London."

"That however, should only be the first step in improving east-west connectivity across the North, not just on the railways, but the whole transport system. Currently not only is the rail network poor, the motorway system is increasingly congested. I strongly recommend, therefore, that the Government and local authorities build on the work of the One North report by agreeing a format and timetable for turning its analysis into a practical plan for the future. I also believe that this would be helped enormously if the major local authorities across the North formed a joint body so that they speak with one voice on how to manage the inevitable trade-offs that will be necessary to achieve the overall goal."

"And, finally, a challenge for HS2 itself. Because of the legislative process, Phase Two is three years behind Phase One. We need to use that time and space to learn the lessons from elsewhere in the world where by applying new design and construction techniques, as well as private finance, high speed projects have been built quicker and for less. We need to ask how we can apply such techniques in this country. We should explore best practice. The current project underway in France, the Tours to Bordeaux high speed train line, which is to provide capacity relief as well as reducing journey times from Paris to Bordeaux by an hour is an example of an innovative approach to  contractors, design and risk. This 300km project with some 400 civil engineering structures is planned to complete construction in five years, in a wider 11 year programme, and will cost around €7bn. While parts of HS2 Phase One are very different, with Old Oak Common and Euston being very complex, the sections of the route North of the Chilterns to Birmingham, and particularly on Phase Two, could benefit from delivery techniques developed on projects such as this."

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