An alternative Northern rail proposal has been tabled which would link High Speed 2 (HS2) and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and include underground stations in major cities such as Leeds and Manchester.
The Trans-Britain Railway plan – put forward by Expedition Engineering and architects Weston Williamson + Partners (WW+P) – emphasises the opportunity to combine the northern section of HS2 (phase 2) and NPR to deliver “real value”.
The scheme proposes a single integrated railway north of Crewe that achieves the objectives of both projects in "a more efficient and affordable manner".
Expedition Engineering director Alistair Lenczner explained: “We’re totally in agreement with the objective of HS2 and NPR but we think there’s a better way of doing it as a single joined up project.
“We’re imaging that, north of Crewe, the Trans-Britain Railway would bring together all the objectives of HS2 and NPR into one integrated project which is a more cost-effective solution and better value for money.”
The railway would allow train services to travel from Manchester towards Crewe (on HS2 infrastructure) and towards Preston (on HS2 and Network Rail). Initially terminating at Liverpool Lime Street, it would eventually run into a new underground through station in central Liverpool, allowing onward connectivity to Southport.
This would not involve any changes to the proposed route of HS2. With the final route yet to be revealed for NPR, Lenczner said the comparison here is more difficult to make.
“We still haven’t seen the published geographic route for NPR so we can’t say how the Trans-Britain Railway would differ,” he said. “We would be interested to see the plans but rather than wait, we thought this is what it could be anyway.”
Delivering the proposal is estimated to cost between £30bn and £35bn - comparable with the combined costs of the current proposals for NPR and HS2 Phase 2b east, according to Expedition and WW+P.
In terms of the current HS2 and NPR proposals, both companies believe a through station at Manchester Piccadilly would be a better option than the currently-proposed terminus station.
This is a concept also reflected in the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)’sRail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and North- published in December 2020 - which says thatthrough stations “offer better connectivity, capacity and operational efficiency in city centres than terminus stations”.
Expedition and WW+P have already put forwarda proposal for an underground through station at Manchester Piccadilly, and the new Trans-Britain Railway proposal includes plans for a similar underground through station at Leeds.
The new Leeds station would be integrated alongside the existing Network Rail station, providing services to destinations such as Manchester, Liverpool and Preston in the west, and York, Hull and Newcastle to the North and East. It would also offer up to four high speed trains per hour to London via Manchester.
Its platforms would be constructed underground within a structural box parallel to the existing platforms of the Network Rail station. The construction of the box would allow high speed trains to pass below the River Aire, accommodated in a new culvert.
The new station could also encourage further development of the waterfront, supporting the broader vision of a sustainable city and making the most of the city’s historic and natural assets.
"You've only got one chance to make a first impression," Lenczner said. "This is a chance for people to arrive in Leeds, come out of the station and the first thing they see is river frontage and the River Aire."
Using underground stations with tunnel approaches means disruption and demolition within existing city centres is minimised. The Trans-Britain Railway line provides new tunnels where it passes through areas of high urban density or significant geographic relief, with tunnels under Warrington, Manchester, the Pennines and Moor Head, for example.
The proposal also includes new intermediate stations, between the HS2 hubs of Manchester and Leeds, suggesting stations at Warrington Bank Quay, Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly, Rochdale Parkway, Bradford Parkway and Leeds City. All of these would be through stations, offering operational efficiency, improved connectivity and increased capacity.
In addition to this, the plans include a new trans-Pennine tunnel between Manchester and Leeds, used by high-speed intercity trains as well as fast regional trains, providing a new fast railway connection between Sheffield and West Yorkshire.
Overall, Lenczner said the integrated approach allows new rail infrastructure to be “optimised in terms of utilization and costs" and improves the environmental impact of the project.
Weston Williamson + Partners founding partner Rob Naybour added: "Our proposal shows how HS2 and NPR can be integrated to maximise benefits for the whole country, connecting through the centre of Manchester and Leeds with high frequency services. The design of the new infrastructure helps to create humane and vibrant places and make the most of existing assets. Our proposals for Leeds station show how the historic waterfront and the River Aire could form a centrepiece of a sustainable city.
"The route shows similar connectivity and placemaking can be applied to the towns and regions each side of the Pennines, which can also benefit from direct access to new high-speed network”.