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Greater Manchester’s Labour Mayor Andy Burnham, and his Conservative counterpart in the West Midlands, Andy Street, have set out options for an alternative link between the two city-regions in the wake of the cancellation of the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2.
The two mayors put forward a largely privately funded solution at press event in Birmingham, which has the backing of engineering and finance businesses including EY, Skanska, Mace and Arup, which hosted the announcement at their offices in Birmingham city centre. Plans look to similar privately-led rail schemes around the world, including in expansions to France’s TGV high-speed rail network and on Japan’s rail network, to secure the bulk of funding.
The scheme would provide the ‘missing link’ in connecting the HS2 line between London and Birmingham and improved Northern Powerhouse Rail links between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and other cities in Yorkshire and the North East. Proposals would also boost transport capacity between the Midlands and the North-west. Three options are now being considered for improving Manchester to Birmingham rail connections:
- Upgrades to the West Coast Mainline’s most constrained sections, particularly between Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stafford, which represents to lowest cost option, but which brings least wider benefits.
- New rail ‘bypasses’ along the most congested parts of the route, particularly between Crewe and Stockport.
- A wholly new rail line, largely following the HS2 route to Crewe and Manchester, although with a lower max speed than original plans in order to mitigate costs – land bought by government to construct the route remains largely in public ownership.
Mayors Andy Burnham and Andy Street also announced the launch of a new consortium of private business leaders to explore plans in more details, and which will be chaired by former HS2 chair, David Higgins. Plans, which proponents believe could complete by 2041, the same timeframe originally expected for HS2’s completion, will be put forward to the Transport Secretary in March.
HS2’s Northern leg from Birmingham to Crewe, Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly was cancelled by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in October 2023 over spiralling costs of the project, with money reallocated to smaller-scale infrastructure projects nationwide.
Cancellation of the Northern leg of the route has been widely criticised by transport and political leaders in the North. Responding to a Public Accounts Committee report into the HS2 cancellation, Lord McLoughlin, former Transport Secretary and Transport for the North Chair said:
“The decision to stop HS2 at Birmingham is a missed opportunity for the North, and the country as whole. It wasn’t just the improved North-South connectivity it would have enabled, but the extra capacity it provided, both in terms of the new high-speed line and in the space freed up on the existing network to run more services. This would have benefited passengers and freight.
“Transport for the North’s evidence shows those capacity and connectivity needs haven’t changed, and we need still need that transformational investment in pan-regional transport to support levelling up.”