As expected, proposals for HS3 which have been announced today, seem to have taken the most-cost options, with the total cost range for the proposed new lines to link Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield being a staggering £40.5-£65bn. The options set out will, instead of seeing cities coming together see them battling against each other and missing the fact there are cheaper options which can be delivered sooner.
Besides very broad and eye-watering cost estimates, the proposals are still short of any details about potential routes, plans or timescales. Whilst there has been a liberal sprinkling of the new political catch phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’, like when HS2 was announced in the run up to the 2010 election, the only tangible benefit which is being used to support the proposals are the ‘aspirational’ journey time savings which could be achieved by introducing 140mph trains. Despite the constant use of the term ‘HS3’, the proposals would not as newly built railway lines, count as high-speed rail. The international definition of ‘high speed’ is 155mph for new build railways, or 124mph if using upgraded existing lines.
The benefits of the ‘aspirational’ journey time savings estimates seem to be an exceptionally high price to pay. Whilst the DfT report, labelled “The Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda, One Economy, One North” states that the current £440m Trans-Pennine electrification project, which was put on hold by Network Rail last week, would reduce journey time from Leeds to Manchester from 50 to 40 minutes, the plan unveiled today would shave it to 30 minutes, but at a cost of up to £10,000m, 22 times the cost of the current, delayed project.
Whilst the hope from Government with ‘TransNorth’ is to unite Northern cities to one aim, it is highly likely that the reverse is true, as by producing a set of options for new lines, Newcastle will lobby for Option1, Liverpool for Option 4, Hull for Option 5 and Sheffield for Option 2, and whilst Leeds and Manchester will have a couple to choose from, they will most likely want Option 3. Knowing that there is only so much money to go around, this is certainly how things will pan out.
The report claims that Treasury analysis shows that realising the ambition to rebalance the UK economy would be worth an additional £56 billion in nominal terms to the northern economy, or £44 billion in real terms, but this is less than the proposed costs of the new lines and the report makes no assertion that the ‘TransNorth’ proposals will achieve ‘rebalancing the economy’. As the Stop HS2 campaign has always maintained, if the aim is to rebalance the economy, then HS2 would be the last thing which should be done. Improving London connections before those across the North will only mean the economy becomes more London-centric.
Bizarrely the report also seems to undermine the case for HS2 stating:
“Supporting £2.7 billion of investment to introduce new Inter-City trains on the East Coast Main Line running north-south to increase capacity and speeds on one of the country’s principal rail routes connecting the North and the capital. This will dramatically improve connectivity from London to Leeds, York, Tees Valley, Newcastle and into Scotland”
The benefits claimed by improving the East Coast Mainline are exactly the same as those claimed by HS2, but of course the ECML improvements will be much, much cheaper.
Also missed from general consumption is how the current franchise process intends to reduce over-crowding on current lines. Both the TransPennine Express and Northern franchises are up for grabs to be operational from April next year, and pre-tender documents claim that overcrowding will be mitigated by restrictions in the availability of advance fares, meaning that the plan to relieve current overcrowding is to price people off trains.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“What has been announced is a pre-election gimmick for high speed rail with no route, no plan and no timescale, but an eye watering £60bn budget plucked out of the air to deliver something which doesn’t even qualify as high-speed rail. Just like HS2, this is the highest cost option on a white elephant which delays planned upgrades and delivers the least benefit for the travelling public, but the most benefit to those with vested interests in building it. This has been announced to try and buy votes, but all it will do is remind the public how out of touch politicians really are.”
“What has been totally missed in this pre-election media fanfare is, like HS2 with, that there are cheaper, better alternatives to upgrade transpennine links which could be delivered more quickly which are currently not happening. Last week Network Rail suspended Leeds-Manchester electrification with only 4% of the project completed. That would cut 10 minutes off the journey at £44m/minute saved, but what is now being proposed is saving 20 minutes at a cost of £500m/minute saved. What sort of idiot would think this new proposal which is at best a decade away is a better bet than the on which should be being built now?”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said:
“The announcements today are another case of HS3 jam tomorrow, in the hope of support for HS2 today. There are no real plans, merely a repeated intention to look at ideas, and aspirational timings. They are asking HS2 Ltd, whose track-record is to up the price and de-scope a project, to take some of these ideas forward. Don’t forget, HS2 have previously ditched a high speed rail route to Liverpool and dropped the HS1 link.”
“One of the major problems with HS2 was the emphasis on speed rather than connectivity south of Birmingham. Calling the new proposals HS3 risks prioritising speed over the real needs of transport users. Meanwhile the TransPennine electrification faces continuing delays, as does the Phase 2 HS2 route announcement, and there are proposals to use ancient underground trains on railways in the north.”
“HS2 is a £50 billion white elephant. These HS3 proposals are a bribe to try and get people to overlook the major flaws in HS2. The HS2 economic case uses outdated assumptions about business travel, and building it will be hugely environmentally damaging. The case for HS2 collapsed years ago, but the Department for Transport seem determined to push forward none the less. We call on all Parliamentary candidates to look closely at the plans, and for the incoming Government to cancel HS2 as soon as possible.”