A confirmed proposal, put forward by one of the original masterminds, advocates for the creation of a new underground HS2 through the station at Manchester Piccadilly, which would effectively avoid the disruption of the tram service to Tameside. The revelation that the existing plans to rejuvenate Manchester Piccadilly for HS2 services would entail a two-year interruption of the vital transportation link to the city's east has raised concerns among local ministers. However, these concerns could be mitigated if the widely supported alternative plan for an underground through station is pursued.
The proposed scheme, collaboratively developed by architects Weston Williamson + Partners and engineering consultants Expedition Engineering, seeks to integrate HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail's Manchester Piccadilly stations into a single underground through station, rather than an above-ground terminus. Alistair Lenczner, a former director at Expedition, highlights that the underground Piccadilly plan includes comprehensive provisions for modifying the affected Ashton-under-Lyne tram line.
Presently, the Ashton-under-Lyne tram line terminates at Piccadilly Metrolink station, which is situated beneath the main train station concourse and platforms. In the alternative Piccadilly station scheme, the tram line would be redirected to a newly constructed street-level station located outside the main entrance. This redirection entails rerouting the tracks from the current Aytoun Street to Piccadilly Street. Trams would then make a stop at the new Station Square stop on the north side of the train station before continuing their eastward journey to Ashton-under-Lyne on the same tracks they presently utilise
Lenczner assures that the track re-routing and the establishment of the new Station Square stop would be completed prior to commencing work on the underground HS2 station. This would allow the trams to continue operating on the existing line until the new alignment is ready, ensuring a smooth transition with minimal disruption to tram services. Lenczner emphasises that this is merely one of the many advantages offered by Weston Williamson's underground through-station proposal, surpassing the limitations of the current planned version.
The current plan designates Piccadilly as a terminus, necessitating trains to reverse their direction to proceed north, resulting in a bottleneck. The primary advantage of a through station is its capacity to enable services to continue from Manchester and proceed further north without the need for reversing. This increased flexibility benefits both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail services, fostering potential growth in destinations such as Bradford, Leeds, York, and beyond. Moreover, the proposed through station serves as a valuable interchange point between these lines.
From an economic perspective, combining the HS2 and NPR stations would yield cost savings in construction, while the existing arch space beneath the current station could be repurposed for commercial use. Furthermore, there is potential for additional commercial space to be developed above the new high-speed station. In sum, this proposal would establish a new intermodal interchange for Manchester, effectively creating a vibrant business district within the city centre.
Although the government did not incorporate the plan for an underground high-speed station in the Integrated Rail Plan, opting instead for a "turnback" terminus station, the possibility of an underground through station remains alive. The recent introduction of the HS2 Phase 2b bill to Parliament opens up the potential for a serious discussion on the matter, as noted by Rob Naybour, a partner at Weston Williamson. The underground Piccadilly station has also garnered vocal public support from Manchester City Council, which urged the government to reconsider the plan's "compelling case." Additionally, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham believes that the underground station could unlock the economic potential of the North, further bolstering its significance.