Transport secretary Lord Adonis has just announced plans for a new £30bn high speed rail scheme for the UK, which will create an “initial core” network linking London to Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds..
However, high speed trains will run from the outset, on conventional lines, through to Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Adonis confirmed the new high speed network would mimic a Y-shape and will stretch along 536km in total. It will be capable of running trains at up up to 400km/h.
Elaborating on how the new network would hook in to other transport modes he said the new line would also have two interchange stations - one to the west of Paddington for connections to Heathrow airport via Crossrail and the other for Birmingham airport.
The main high speed station for London would be at Euston, said Adonis. This is close to St Pancras station, which serves the High Speed 1 (HS1). However, Adonis said he had instructed Andrew McNaughton, chief engineer of government company High Speed 2 (HS2) to look at the possibility of creating a through service to the HS1 and the continent.
Construction of the network would not begin before 2017 and the first 192km stretch from London to the West Midlands would cost between £15.8bn and £17.4bn, he said. Exactly 10% of the proposed route to Birmingham would be tunnelled but the cost per kilometer would then halve beyond Birmingham.
“The time has come for Britain to plan seriously for high speed rail between our major cities,” Adonis said. “The high speed line from London to the Channel Tunnel has been a clear success, and many European and Asian countries now have extensive and successful high speed networks. I believe high speed rail has a big part to play in Britain’s future.”
Pre-consultation with local authorities and local groups followed by a six month consultation period beginning in the autumn with a view to creating a single hybrid bill for the project in spring 2011.
Heathrow hub rejected
Speaking on one of the most hotly debated issues, Adonis said that HS2 had found that there was only a weak business case for creating a station along the route for Heathrow airport.
He said the additional tunnelling for such a connection would cost “at least £2bn” and the preferred alternative would be to build an interchange station to the west of Paddington in London, which would connect to Crossrail. This would create a connection to the airport with an 11 minute journey time.
Adonis went further and slammed earlier plans by consultant Arup for a Heathrow Hub high speed connection. He suggested that its plans were flawed for choosing a site 3.5km north of Terminal 5 and on a flood plain sandwiched between the M25, the M4 and the Great Western railway. He added that it would not be close enough to any of the airport’s terminals, which would mean all flight passengers would need to take a shuttle.
Arup’s hub would be served by First Great Western services and by Crossrail as well as the proposed Airtrak project to extend Heathrow Express trains to Reading, via Staines, and providing a new rail link to Gatwick airport. However, it admitted that its proposal was not without its challenges.
Arup envisaged a 12 platform station built on the northern boundary of Heathrow, operating direct high speed services to the continent and cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff. If it goes ahead, the project would strengthen the case for electrification — and possible upgrading — of the Great Western Main Line to South Wales and the West Country.
However, Adonis added that he had appointed former transport secretary Lord Mawhinney to look again at the issue of an integrated Heathrow airport connection.
Meanwhile, the interchange station close to Birmingham airport, creating a link to the M6 and M42, the West Coast Main Line, the wider West Midlands and the airport itself.
High speed journey times
London to Birmingham: 49 minutes
London to Manchester: 1 hour 20 minutes
London to Sheffield: 1 hour 15 minutes
London to Leeds: 1 hour 20 minutes