Network Rail Chair highlights lack of HS2 connections with Scotland and Wales as top concern for union connectivity

Posted on 11 March 2021

Sir Peter Hendy, Chair of Network Rail, has highlighted the lack of High Speed 2 connections with Scotland and Wales as a top concern for union connectivity. In the recently published interim report of the Union Connectivity Review, Hendy noted that improving HS2 connectivity is a key area for enhancement based on the evidence submitted thus far. The review has received submissions calling for faster and higher-capacity connections for passengers travelling from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales, as well as better freight capacity.

There is a need for relief from congestion on the M4 corridor in South Wales, along with improvements to the South Wales main line. The Burns Commission has proposed a "Network of Alternatives" solution to alleviate congestion on the road. The review also includes an official feasibility study of a possible Irish Sea crossing, which will be conducted by two former ICE presidents. The government has committed £20 million towards exploring the development of some of the identified projects.

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 Union Connectivity Review, set to be released this summer, will explore ways to improve transportation infrastructure across the United Kingdom, including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England, using road, rail, and air travel as well as connecting the Irish Sea. The interim report outlines how a UK Strategic Transport Network could aid in achieving this goal. The potential network is now the primary focus of Hendy's investigations, and his final report will identify specific transport upgrades that could form the backbone of the network. The interim report suggests a desire for increased investment in strategically critical transport infrastructure and improved connectivity within and between nations.

The report has been welcomed, with hopes that it will encourage the government to fund a strategic set of priority investments. While devolution has been beneficial, it has also led to a lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations. Hendy believes that a UK Strategic Transport Network could rectify this and level up the whole of the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the review, calling it pioneering and stating that it provides the tools to deliver on ambitions for a UK-wide transport network.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps emphasised the importance of levelling up every corner of the country through high-quality transport infrastructure. Proposals to improve connectivity have been suggested to the review, including the conversion of the HS2 network to an "X" shape to connect Cardiff and Edinburgh, commitments to both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the creation of an Irish Sea link through a cross-Irish Sea rail tunnel or a Scotland-Northern Ireland tunnel. Downing Street officials have also suggested an underground roundabout as an alternative to the Irish Sea tunnel plan.


A spokesperson for the High-Speed Rail Group welcomed the government's progress on plans for a new pan-UK strategic transport network, including faster and higher capacity connections from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales, and suggested that the Prime Minister's comments on improving rail links between England and Scotland align with their report on high-speed rail and Scotland. They emphasised the importance of a national high-speed rail network for improving capacity, levelling up the economy, and reaching net-zero goals, and called on the government to fund the final recommendations of the Union Connectivity Review.

Tim Foster, interim strategy and programmes director for Transport for the North, expressed support for the review's early rail and road projects, which align with their infrastructure pipeline for the North. He emphasised the need for long-term commitment to a transformed rail network for the UK, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, to improve connections across the union, increase rail capacity and reliability, cut carbon emissions, and drive economic recovery.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, welcomed the government's ideas for new rail investment, including better connections from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales and higher capacity on the East Coast Main Line. He stressed the need for certainty on planned rail schemes, visibility of upcoming rail enhancement schemes, and the decarbonisation and digitalisation of the network to support economic growth, investment, and jobs as the country emerges from the pandemic.

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