Linking HS2 with Scotland and Wales priority for union connectivity

Posted on 11 March 2021

The lack of High Speed 2 (HS2) connections with Scotland and Wales tops Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy’s list of union connectivity concerns.

In the interim report on the Union Connectivity Review– published yesterday – Hendy said that HS2 connectivity is one of the key areas for improvement identified in evidence submitted so far.

Submissions to the review call for faster and higher capacity connections for passengers from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales, and consequently better freight capacity.

Another key area of concern is relief from congestion for the M4 corridor in South Wales and consequent improvements to the South Wales main line.The Burns Commission recently suggested a "Network of Alternatives" solution to reduce congestion on the road.

Two former ICE presidents have also been brought in to carry out an official feasibility study of a possible Irish Sea crossing as part of the review.

The government has today committed £20M towards exploring the development of some of the projects identified so far.

Key areas for concern include:

  • Faster and higher capacity connections for passengers from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales, and consequently better freight capacity too

  • Higher capacity and faster journey times to and from Scotland from England and Wales and Newcastle by rail (East Coast Main Line) and road (A1)

  • A higher capacity and faster connection on the A75 from the ferry port at Cairnryan to the M6 corridor for freight and passengers to and from Northern Ireland

  • Relief from congestion for the M4 corridor in South Wales, on which the Burns Commission recently reported to the Welsh Government, and consequent improvements to the South Wales main line

  • Better port capacity at Holyhead, and connections from Ynys Môn and the North Wales coast to Merseyside and Manchester for freight and passengers

  • Improved port capacity, road and rail capacity and journey times East/West across the Midlands and the North, for passengers, and to enhance freight capacity and connections from Ireland, and onwards to the East Coast ports for exports, post Brexit.

  • Faster and higher capacity connections from Belfast to North West Northern Ireland, and to the Republic of Ireland, for passengers and freight, and to link with the Republic’s plans for rail development

  • Better air links to England to and from Northern Ireland and Northern Scotland, including but not exclusively to and from London Heathrow, for worldwide connections for passengers and freight; including the appropriate rate of Air Passenger Duty for journeys not realistic by rail

  • Connections to freeports when those are announced by the government and the devolved administrations

The full Union Connectivity Review is due to be published in the summer. It will look at how to boost transport infrastructure throughout Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England via road, rail and air, and across the Irish Sea.

The interim report sets out how a UK Strategic Transport Network would help deliver this ambition. The potential network will now form the main focus of Hendy's continuing investigations, with his final report looking to identify specific transport upgrades that could form the backbone of the network.

According to the interim report, there is a "desire across the UK for increased investment" both in "strategically critical transport infrastructure" and "improved connectivity" within and between nations.

It continues: "There are a considerable number of strategically critical transport projects across the UK which would benefit from investment and this review is welcomed if it can encourage government to make funding available for a strategic set of priority investments."

Hendy emphasised that while devolution has been "good for transport", it has also caused a "lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations, due to competing priorities and complex funding".

He added: "A UK Strategic Transport Network could resolve this, with its core objective centred around levelling up across the whole of the UK."

Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson described the review as "pioneering" and said it provides the tools needed to "deliver" on "ambitions for a UK-wide transport network that encompasses sea, rail and road".

He said: "It’s now time to build back better in a way that brings every corner of the UK closer together. We will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map."

Transport secretary Grant Shapps added: "As we build back better from COVID-19, it is more important than ever that we level up every corner of our great country.

"High-quality transport infrastructure is key to achieving that, which is why we are committed to boosting connectivity and bringing communities across the UK even closer together."

Numerous proposals to improve connectivity have been suggested to the review.The High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) proposed the conversion of the ‘Y’ shaped HS2 network to an ‘X’, which would provide a direct connection between Cardiff and Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, Transport for the North (TfN) called for “clear commitment” to the delivery of both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR)andthe West Yorkshire Combined Authority identified HS2’s eastern leg as key to improving UK connectivity.

Formal proposals for an Irish Sea link have been put forward, withthe HSRG proposing a cross-Irish Sea rail tunnel with connecting rail links to Carlisle and Belfastandtransport think tank Greengauge 21 calling for the creation of a Scotland-Northern Ireland tunnel which it says could form part of a "capital cities axis" between Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Downing Street officials have also proposed an “underground roundabout” alternative to the Irish Sea tunnel plan championed by prime minister Boris Johnson.

Reaction

High Speed Rail Group spokesperson:“We welcome the progress being made by government in formulating plans for a new pan-UK strategic transport network, including faster and higher capacity connections from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales – which will benefit both passengers and freight.

“The prime minister’s comments in today’sDaily Telegraphon improving rail links between England and Scotland – “We don’t need a new line; with some bypasses, better track and signalling, as Sir Peter believes, we could run services from Glasgow to London in about 3 hours, and carry more freight too” – are very much in line with our own report,High Speed Rail and Scotland, which set out a series of specific improvements that could help us achieve a three hour journey time between our two nations. The £20M committed by Government today could play a significant role in accelerating this ambition.

“A truly national high speed rail network will be essential in not only improving capacity, but levelling up our economy and reaching our 2050 net zero goals. With the Union Connectivity Review set to be published this summer, the government should commit to funding the final report’s recommendations as part of the next Spending Review.”

Transport for the North interim strategy and programmes director Tim Foster:“The North must be at the heart of the mission to better connect the whole of the UK and level up, investment in our infrastructure is critical to improving key routes across our borders to Wales, Scotland and further south. It’s positive to see the early rail and road projects highlighted by the review strongly aligned to those in our own infrastructure pipeline for the North.

“Long-term commitment to a transformed rail network for the UK - including Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 - must also now form the backbone of better connections across the union. Doing so will deliver more rail capacity and increase reliability, as well as cutting carbon emissions and driving recovery of our economy.”

Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan:“It is positive to see the government set out ideas for new rail investment, including better connections from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales and higher capacity on the East Coast Main Line. Rail has a vital role to play in the UK’s economic recovery from Coronavirus and in achieving net zero by 2050, but to do so it needs certainty on planned rail schemes, like HS2 Eastern Leg, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Midlands Rail Hub, as well as visibility of upcoming rail enhancement schemes, and the decarbonisation and digitalisation of the network.

“The rail industry looks forward to working with the government to take these forward, supporting jobs, investment and economic growth as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.”

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