Andy Burnham, Labor Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Andy Street, Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, have joined forces on alternative, cheaper plans for the abandoned section of HS2, warning that 'doing nothing is not an option' .
Burnham and Street shared the stage on Wednesday to propose three options after the government abandoned the long-promised northern section of the high-speed rail line.
The mayors said their alternatives, largely privately funded, would cost “considerably less” than HS2, although no precise figures exist at this stage.
The mayors have created a consortium chaired by Sir David Higgins, former chairman of HS2, which involves private engineering and finance companies including Arup, EY, Skanska and Mace.
It follows the cancellation, announced in October, of the northern section of the HS2 line to Manchester. Rishi Sunak instead promised to spend £36 billion on alternative transport schemes known as Network North.
Street said the cancellation of the HS2 northern line was a tragedy. With the West Coast Main Line and the M6 motorway at capacity, alternatives had to be explored, the mayors said.
Burnham said doing nothing on rail capacity between the West Midlands and Greater Manchester was not an option as it would harm economic growth.
“The country will not be able to act in time if we do nothing,” he said. This would leave the UK with “a serious transport headache for the rest of this century”.
One option revealed on Wednesday is to build a separate line like that planned for HS2 but with lower maximum speeds, thereby reducing costs. The completely new line option would be much the same as the abandoned HS2 section, Street said.
“The main difference is obviously the issue of speed,” he said. “A lot of the cost of HS2, if you ask the design engineers, comes from this very intransigent point about speed.” HS2 trains will travel at up to 225mph.
Burnham said the northern part of HS2 had always been “one of the least complicated parts of the network” because no tunnels were needed. The new line would be primarily passenger, meaning freight could use the existing West Coast Main Line.
Street said the possibility of trains stopping between Crewe and Manchester on a new line – unlike the HS2 plan – would be considered, but “there won’t be 10 stops”.
There are two other options. One is to upgrade parts of the existing West Coast Main Line, which Street said would result in “minimal capital cost and relatively little benefit”. The third is to add bypasses to the busiest sections of the West Coast Main Line.
Burnham stressed that they were not delivering HS2 “through the back door”. This decision was made and we accepted it.
The mayors met Transport Secretary Mark Harper last week to discuss the works and said they had “constructive and positive” discussions.
Harper had “shown an open mind”, Burnham said, and it was significant that ministers had allowed HS2 and Network Rail to be involved in their proposals.