A new proposal for Northern Rail has been presented, which aims to link High Speed 2 (HS2) and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), including the construction of underground stations in major cities like Leeds and Manchester.
The plan called the Trans-Britain Railway, has been suggested by Expedition Engineering and architects Weston Williamson + Partners (WW+P). The proposal emphasises the potential benefits of integrating the northern section of HS2 (phase 2) and the Northern Powerhouse Rail to create greater value. The plan envisions a single, cohesive railway north of Crewe that achieves the objectives of both projects more efficiently and cost-effectively. According to Expedition Engineering director Alistair Lenczner, the proposed Trans-Britain Railway would unite the goals of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail into a single, joined-up project, resulting in a better value for money.
The proposed railway would facilitate train services from Manchester to both Crewe (on HS2 infrastructure) and Preston (on HS2 and Network Rail). The line would initially end at Liverpool Lime Street, with plans for it to extend to a new underground station in central Liverpool, allowing further connectivity to Southport. It's important to note that this proposal would not involve any changes to the proposed route of HS2.
As for Northern Powerhouse Rail, the final route has yet to be revealed, making it difficult to compare. Expedition Engineering director Alistair Lenczner commented, "We would be interested to see the plans, but rather than wait, we thought this is what it could be anyway."
The proposal is estimated to cost between £30bn and £35bn, comparable to the combined costs of the current proposals for NPR and HS2 Phase 2 East.
Both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are currently proposing a terminus station at Manchester Piccadilly, but both companies, including Expedition Engineering and Weston Williamson + Partners, believe that a through station would be a better option. The National Infrastructure Commission's Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and North, published in December 2020, also supports this idea, stating that through stations "offer better connectivity, capacity, and operational efficiency in city centres than terminus stations."
Expedition Engineering and Weston Williamson + Partners have already proposed an underground through station at Manchester Piccadilly, with the new Trans-Britain Railway proposal which includes plans for a similar underground through a station at Leeds. The new Leeds station would integrate with the existing Network Rail station and provide services to destinations in the west, north, and east, including Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, York, Hull, and Newcastle, and up to four high-speed trains per hour to London via Manchester.
The station's platforms would be constructed underground within a structural box parallel to the existing platforms of the Network Rail station. The box's construction would enable high-speed trains to pass beneath the River Aire, which would be accommodated in a new culvert. The station's development could also encourage further waterfront development and support Leeds' sustainable city vision while highlighting the city's historical and natural assets.
Expedition Engineering director Alistair Lenczner expressed the importance of the station's first impression, saying, "You've only got one chance to make a first impression. 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."
The Trans-Britain Railway proposal suggests using underground stations with tunnel approaches to minimise disruption and demolition in existing city centres. The proposal includes tunnels under areas of high urban density or significant geographic relief, such as Warrington, Manchester, the Pennines, and Moor Head. New intermediate stations would also be added between the HS2 hubs of Manchester and Leeds, including through stations at Warrington Bank Quay, Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly, Rochdale Parkway, Bradford Parkway, and Leeds City. The proposal also includes a new trans-Pennine tunnel between Manchester and Leeds, enabling high-speed intercity trains as well as fast regional trains to use it and providing a new fast railway connection between Sheffield and West Yorkshire.
Expedition Engineering director Alistair Lenczner said that the integrated approach allows new rail infrastructure to be "optimized in terms of utilization and costs," resulting in an improved environmental impact. Weston Williamson + Partners founding partner Rob Naybour added that the proposal shows how HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail can be integrated to maximise benefits for the entire country. The design of the new infrastructure helps create humane and vibrant places and makes the most of existing assets. The proposal for Leeds station shows how the historic waterfront and the River Aire could form a centrepiece of a sustainable city, and the route shows that similar connectivity and placemaking can be applied to the towns and regions on either side of the Pennines, which can also benefit from direct access to the new high-speed network.