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Midlands Connect should challenge the plan for HS2

Graham Nalty Derby DE24
26 June 2020
 

I welcome the long overdue call for changes to rail investment proposals made by Transport for the North (‘Recognise synergies between major rail projects, says TfN’ LTT 12 Jun). The different Government structures for rail projects in the North hinders the creation of a railway that can offer seamless journeys to passengers. This is made even worse when one of these Government structures is HS2 Ltd. 

My observation is that it and the DfT have been as obstructive as possible towards sensible proposals from cities to change the HS2 plans. The route to Stoke, Sheffield city centre station, and the idea of a through station at Leeds are prime examples. And Birmingham and Nottingham that have not dared to challenge less than beneficial outcomes for their cities.

Far from being the ‘backbone of the railway’ as HS2 supporters like to claim, HS2 has become a ‘straightjacket’ that prevents best value connectivity between northern cities in several areas.

Transport for the North demonstrates one of the worst ‘straightjackets’ in their proposal for a high-speed route between Liverpool and Manchester via a roundabout route entering Manchester from the south via HS2. It is not sensible in terms of:

  • reputation – would anyone with a modicum of railway knowledge trust an organisation proposing such a long-winded route?
  • marketing/sales – will passengers be convinced that route will be quicker than the direct route at slower speed – or prepared to pay the higher fares?
  • cost – is this really cost-effective construction?

Fortunately there is a much better solution proposed by Greengauge 21 in Revisiting High Speed North as reported in LTT 15 May. I trust TfN will adopt it.

Another ‘straightjacket’ is the roundabout route proposed by Midlands Connect in its Access to Toton proposals for connecting Nottingham to Birmingham via the new HS2 station at Toton. A far better solution proposed by Greengauge 21 in Beyond HS2 is a Nottingham South HS2 connection near East Midlands Parkway. Midlands Connect does not mention this as a possible alternative, nor any reasons why its solution is better. The Nottingham South HS2 connection would offer a further 25 per cent reduction in journey time between Nottingham and Birmingham.

Nottingham is effectively the regional capital of the East Midlands and on that merit alone deserves to be directly connected to all the main HS2 destinations of London, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle. That is where the debate should start.

The case for a direct HS2 service between Nottingham and London is very strong. The city has about as many London-bound rail passengers as Stafford, Stoke and Macclesfield combined, more than Chesterfield and Sheffield which will have two HS2 trains, and about two-thirds the number of Leeds, which will have three HS2 trains an hour.

Nottingham to Birmingham needs faster trains than can be delivered on the classic routes. Nottingham to Sheffield and Leeds (and extension to Bradford) could certainly benefit from HS2 speeds.

Rail services from Nottingham to Newcastle have never been good or direct. A direct HS2 service needs to be taken seriously. In the meantime, there is still the urgent case of grade separation of the East Coast Main Line junction at Newark, which opens the possibility of a Newark North connection between Nottingham and the ECML, as mentioned in the Oakervee HS2 report.

A further ‘straightjacket’ is the proposal for three trains an hour from Crewe to Toton. The connectivity between cities in the North West and the East Midlands is the slowest between any two regions. Fast limited stop trains from Nottingham and Derby to Liverpool and Chester via Crewe are needed. 125mph running between Derby and Stoke could reduce journey times between the East Midlands and the North West by 20 minutes.

In the past Midlands Connect has shown very creditable proposals for improving rail services in the Midlands. But its adherence to the HS2 ‘straightjacket’ does the Midlands and in particular the East Midlands a great disservice.

Put simply, Midlands Connect should heed the advice from Transport for the North, put the interests of the East Midlands cities first, and adapt the HS2 route. What it has done so far is put the interests of the HS2 project far above the transport needs of East Midlands people. 

Time to get back to the drawing board.

 
 
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