In a speech given today at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, George Osborne raised the possibility of a third high speed line in England.
However, this is not some bold new plan, but simply corrects the missing link from the HS2 plans. Readers of this website are probably well aware that HS2 does not connect Manchester and Leeds or Manchester and Sheffield directly and so will have no effect on journey times between the two cities.
The new line will travel the 40 miles between Manchester and Leeds – a fraction of the 350 miles of HS2 route. Liverpool is still excluded.
This is a massive design flaw in a line which is supposed to ‘change the economic geography’ of the country, and it is this flaw in HS2 which the Chancellor’s proposed line covers up.
The line itself is uncosted: although George Osborne told BBC Breakfast if it cost the same per mile as HS2 it would be around £6-7 billion, but that it would use existing rail corridors, making it cheaper. This decision is in contrast to HS2 to London, where the need to squeeze every minute off the journey time meant the engineers who designed the route avoided existing transport corridors.
However, the idea of faster trains linking Leeds and Manchester isn’t new. John Prescott, former deputy prime minister said “There’s no money, just a declaration from the very same man who abolished the Northern Way three years ago. He is trying to reverse his own damaging decision and we haven’t seen any detail, because there isn’t any detail.“
And Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said:
“This plan would mean 30-year-old diesel trains still being used and suggests service cuts and fares increases. The Government should commit wholeheartedly to real investment and growth in the north’s rail network, rather than sending out these mixed messages.”
With general elections in less than a year, this seems to be more about Northern votes than Northern growth.