Thursday, December 2, 2021

HS2 Leeds branch cancelled: what will it mean for the north of England? – Expert Q&A

Following leaked reports that the UK government will scrap plans to extend the UK’s long-awaited high-speed rail network to Leeds, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced in the House of Commons that the eastern phase of HS2 will now be Birmingham only. Will reach from An additional high-speed line will no longer be built to the East Midlands, and between Leeds and Manchester.

Instead, the newly published Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands sets out proposals to upgrade existing lines to reduce travel times between cities as quickly (though not as much).

This is in contrast to previous statements committed by the government in February 2020 to build a full HS2 network. It also leaves a large part of the north of England without high-speed rail connections to the rest of the country. We asked Colin Bamford, economist and emeritus professor of transport and logistics at the University of Huddersfield, what this would mean for the sector.

Is the government correct in claiming that the new rail scheme will benefit commuters in Yorkshire and the North-East – especially faster rail travel – much cheaper than the earlier and original HS2 scheme?

The Integrated Rail Scheme puts forward local rail reform over ten years, meaning that passengers traveling from Leeds to Manchester or Sheffield would actually benefit from shorter travel times much quicker than if they had to reach West Yorkshire. Wait for HS2.

It is much faster to improve existing infrastructure than to build an entirely new system. But we already knew: this was one of the arguments made by opponents of high-speed rail from the very beginning. HS2 was never just about faster travel times.

HS2 was about bringing the North-East into the 21st century and connecting it with the rest of the country.
Alex Manders | Shutterstock

What other important issues would be resolved by HS2 that the new plan must now address?

Capacity is the primary issue. The current East-Coast mainline has no additional slots: because of the time allotted between each service, you may not want to run more services on that line. The idea of ​​HS2 was to take capacity from the current line and transfer it to the fast line, thereby freeing up more capacity. The new scheme will be useless if it does not make it possible to increase the number of possible visits.

Also, the question is what will happen to the freight. HS2 was intended to transfer passenger traffic to the new line, thereby releasing slots for freight traffic. Rail freight transport has repeatedly been shown to be much more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

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Why were you in favor of HS2?

Although initially there were doubts about the project due to the cost involved and the question of who would be able to use it, back in 2013 I came across the benefits it would bring to the region as a whole. This will effectively bring us well into the 21st century. Business leaders argued that it would provide more jobs and more investment.

HS2 is a prestige project. Its construction and operation would have given the North-East of England a better experience both psychologically and financially. Other parts of the country have better rail systems. The new Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme between Leeds and Manchester is merely upgrading a track that has been neglected for decades despite lack of investment and expenditure.

Government transport spending per capita in Yorkshire and the Humber region is half that in Greater Manchester and one-fifth of that in London.

As an undergrad at the University of Leeds, I drew up a map of what a rapid-transit system would look like, and 40 years later, the city is still waiting for one. So the fact that funding has been promised for a new tram system is a sweetener. Leeds, of course, has changed dramatically over the years, but HS2 may have only accelerated that boom.

When you look at other European countries, from France to Italy, or countries in Asia including South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China, high-speed rail has a major impact on those economies.

High speed bullet train on Japanese railway station platform
High-speed rail has been vital to economic development in countries including Japan.
CharlesImage | Shutterstock

Is the cost-savings factor behind this decision justified?

The cost-benefit analysis for HS2 has never been more convincing. When it first surfaced in 2013, the figures were questioned. There was a huge figure for travel-time savings – £24.6 billion – and an estimate about the local economic impact, both of which were not convincing. As the cost of HS2 has risen, the benefit to cost ratio has become increasingly unreliable.

The HS2 budget has actually increased dramatically since the idea was first raised from £37.5 billion in 2011 to £110 billion in 2020, to be completed including the full eastern phase. In contrast, Boris Johnson’s newly announced plan, which includes over HS2, but not a full route to Leeds, comes with a budget of £96bn.

It is quite low. However, given the unprecedented cost incurred due to COVID, such cuts in government spending are understandable. And £96 billion still represents a huge investment. Half a bar of chocolate is better than no chocolate.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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