Scrapping of HS2 Leeds leg ‘a blow to low-carbon recovery’

A proposed design for an HS2 train by Alstom (Credit: Alstom)

The axing of a planned HS2 line between the East Midlands and Leeds is a blow to a low-carbon post-pandemic ‘recovery’, a rail expert has said. Extra capacity from the high-speed leg would have eased pressure on existing lines and enabled a shift from road to rail, said Rail Engineer editor David Shirres to Professional Engineering.   The government confirmed the scrapping of the Leeds branch today (18 November), as it unveiled its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP). The decision came “after it became clear that the full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) schemes as originally proposed would have cost up to GBP185bn and not entered service until the early to mid-2040s,” a government announcement said. 

Instead of connecting London to Birmingham, with further branches to Manchester and Leeds, the eastern leg of HS2 will now just extend to an East Midlands ‘hub’ between Nottingham and Derby. According to the Yorkshire Post, which is running an article by prime minister Boris Johnson today, HS2 trains will then run on existing slower track to Sheffield.   Scrapping the Leeds leg means that benefits from the London-Birmingham line – the most expensive part of the project – are “minimised”, said Shirres.   “The big issue is capacity,” he said. “That is a huge issue, and if the government is serious about decarbonising and suchlike, you need capacity.” 

He added: “HS2 would have relieved a significant amount of pressure on both the Midlands and East Coast main lines with the eastern leg. Everybody’s talking about time savings, but the real issue is capacity… the Department for Transport says we must avoid a car-led recovery. Because so many journeys are done on the rail network, if you’re going to have a significant shift to rail, you need to increase rail capacity.” 

Today’s decision “will be a blow for many”, said Chris Richards, director of policy at the Institution of Civil Engineers. “Decisions are always subject to political review, but it has taken us 12 years to get nowhere – we have to make the next 12 about progress.”    The government billed the IRP as “the biggest ever public investment in Britain’s rail network… with GBP96bn to deliver faster and better journeys to more people across the North and the Midlands.”  Plans include the NPR, which the government said will connect Leeds and Manchester in 33 minutes, down from 55 currently.

The IRP will also electrify and upgrade the Midlands Main Line and the Transpennine Main Line, as well as upgrading the East Coast Main Line with higher speeds and digital signalling to cut journey times.   The announcement also included GBP200m to start planning and building a new mass transit system for Leeds and West Yorkshire.  In the Yorkshire Post, Johnson said a new study would be carried out to work out the best way of linking HS2 to Leeds.  


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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