04 MAY 2020


A new report has set out the need to accelerate plans for a northern transport revolution, and proposes incremental rail improvements to help kick-start the north’s economy back into action.

Greengauge 21’s Revisiting High Speed North argues that although major rail schemes, including the second phase of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), are important and welcomed as a long-term means of levelling up the northern economy and driving change, there are serious problems to be addressed in the north’s rail network in the next 5-10 years that cannot wait for these flagship schemes. 

An incremental approach of upgrading the existing network needs to start straight away, says the report, designed to link up with these major projects to create High Speed North.

Taking action to address the issues in the northern rail network becomes all the more important in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak, says the report. Post virus, government will need to champion public works which are able to quickly deliver on the ground to get the economy moving and to demonstrate results on the decarbonisation and levelling up agendas.

The report is very clear that across the north, the rail network is overloaded with long distance, commuter and freight traffic all competing for too little space on the tracks. 

To build agglomerated economies not just within city centres, but across the north as a whole, the report proposes a number of interventions, including:

  • Follow the construction model of the UK motorway network. Built in stages with incremental benefits throughout, building up to a coherent overall plan, it was constructed in financially digestible chunks;
  • Electrification of Manchester-Liverpool has already taken place. But none of the long-term upgrade plans address the problem of congested city centre rail networks. This has to be tackled now, the report’s authors say, if the benefits of HS2 and NPR are to be fully realised;
  • A Piccadilly Super Hub is proposed, meeting the strong desire of Manchester authorities for an east-west ‘through’ HS2 station underground at Manchester Piccadilly. There is no need, say the report’s authors, to wait for the arrival of HS2 and NPR to make a start with the Super Hub.

Based on an original paper written in 2014 by Professor Peter Hall with Ian Wray and David Thrower on the topic of High Speed North, Greengauge 21 commissioned Wray and Thrower, along with Jim Steer, to revisit and update Professor Hall’s plan through this report, bringing it up to date to address the current climate.

Report co-authors, Ian Wray, David Thrower and Jim Steer said: “Simply put, the rail network in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield does not work- the north deserves better. The north will benefit from the arrival of HS2 and NPR, but these are long term schemes that will not be delivered to the north until the 2040s. 

“So, it is important that steps are taken in the government’s new Integrated Rail Plan, known as High Speed North, to address immediate concerns in the existing network.

“It’s not enough to provide fast links between the major cities of the north. It is also essential to overcome existing bottlenecks, and to tie together more distant labour market areas and towns with the centres of the major cities like Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield

“Ultimately, we do need a grand design, but we need a realistic delivery programme too.”


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