HS2: Mayors to meet minister about alternatives

HS2: Mayors to meet minister about alternatives
The West Midlands mayor Andy Street at the official launch of HS2's Birmingham Curzon Street stationGetty Images

New plans for a privately funded alternative to HS2’s now-scrapped Birmingham to Manchester section will be presented to the transport secretary next week.

Birmingham’s mayor Andy Street told the BBC that he and Manchester mayor Andy Burnham will meet with Mark Harper to discuss bringing in the private sector.

Mr Street said the plan could involve a dedicated line between the cities.

But he said it was “highly unlikely” to be exactly the same as HS2.

In October, the Prime Minister announced the parts of high speed rail line linking the West Midlands to Manchester, and to the East Midlands, would be cancelled.

Rishi Sunak also said HS2’s key new station at Euston would only be built if private investment was secured.

‘Improving connectivity and reliability’

Speaking to the BBC at the official launch of construction at HS2’s Birmingham Curzon Street station, the West Midlands mayor said the proposed alternative route would run between where HS2 ends in Handsacre, north of Birmingham, and south Stockport, where the Northern Powerhouse Rail begins.

Northern Powerhouse Rail is a rail project which plans to speed up links between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds.

HS2 trains are currently expected to continue north to Manchester after Handsacre on existing conventional tracks.

Mr Street said options being considered were “maybe a dedicated line, maybe upgrades to the existing line”. The aim would be to relieve the “very very congested” West Coast Mainline, improving connectivity and reliability.

But he said it would be unlikely to be exactly the same as HS2 as the project was so over budget.

Mr Street confirmed the research he had done into alternative rail improvements was being done with the prime minister’s approval. He gave no further details of the plans and said they were in their early stages.

The mayors announced in December they had started a group involving private sector firms to look at options to tackle the rail route between the Midlands and the North.

The group, chaired by infrastructure expert Sir David Higgins, would look at “the cost, capacity, and economic uplift of changes to the rail route, helping to identify packages of potential interventions and potential private sector funding models and solutions,” a press release at the time said.

BBC iPlayer

Watch on BBC iPlayer how the story of HS2 unfolded.

BBC iPlayer

The transport secretary said yesterday he would “listen with an open mind” to what the mayors came up with. He cautioned that he was “somewhat sceptical” the private sector could deliver without any cost to the taxpayer.

Mr Harper recently lifted “safeguarding” of land along the now-cancelled HS2 route between the West Midlands and Crewe.

It is not the same as selling back land or property, but means the land is no longer earmarked for HS2.

Land near Handsacre will still be protected, which is where a connection will be built linking HS2 to the main line, on which HS2 trains will now travel on to Manchester using conventional tracks.

Source: bbc.co.uk

By David Ryckman