YORKSHIRE could get a third high-speed rail stop – while a debate rages over the location of one of the stops the region has already been promised, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Engineers drawing up plans for the Government have been considering whether a station could be added near York as part of their 225mph network.
The official plan is for a “Y” shaped network which would run from London to Birmingham then branch off in two directions, with one stopping in the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and Leeds and the other going to Manchester.
But the Government wants the Yorkshire branch to connect to the East Coast main line as well – allowing areas further north to benefit from shorter journey times even if the new line does not go all the way there. Consequently, High Speed Two (HS2), which is responsible for suggesting routes to the Government, to consider whether a station could be added near York where the high-speed line would join the existing route to Newcastle and Edinburgh after Leeds.
Engineers are currently working on a number of route options for the Yorkshire line which are expected to be handed to Transport Secretary Justine Greening to consider later this year.
By then, supporters of the £32bn high-speed project hope she will have confirmed that the Government is pressing ahead with the scheme despite intense criticism from those living near the route from London to Birmingham.
She is currently considering the results of a consultation into the scheme which critics claim is too expensive and environmentally damaging, but David Cameron has been a passionate supporter and former Transport Secretary Philip Hammond described it as the “last best hope” of tackling the North-South divide.
Journey times from Yorkshire to London could be cut by as much as 50 minutes by 2032.
But HS2 is facing another headache over where the South Yorkshire station should be located. Engineers are said to believe the simplest option would be to locate it near Meadowhall, where it would be easier and cheaper to design and would be able to serve other parts of the region through connections into town and city centres.
However, Sheffield City Council is understood to be pushing for either a city centre stop or even a spur off the line running into or nearer the city centre.
Supporters of a city centre station argue that making people change at Meadowhall to finish their journey by alternative transport would reduce the time benefits of the high-speed route and undermine the business case. But it would also be more difficult, costly and disruptive to design a suitable route. There is said to be “active engagement” between the parties with no one wanting to jeopardise the entire scheme.
A council spokesperson said: “The city council along with other South Yorkshire delivery partners are working with High Speed 2 on a range of South Yorkshire station options to be presented to the Minister in 2012.
“This work is necessarily confidential and our involvement is strictly governed by confidentiality agreements.
“We can’t therefore comment on specific station possibilities. Sheffield City Council is strongly committed to HS2 serving the City Region and believes that a Sheffield station location could achieve this best.”
In contrast, Leeds has been promised a city centre station and engineers are believed to consider its route and location far more straightforward to decide, with possibilities near or attached to the current station.
The prospect of a station serving York has sparked interest from politicians and business leaders, although it is unclear whether it will make its way into HS2’s final recommendations.
While serving York passengers could improve the scheme’s business case, it would also add significant costs.
Barry Dodd, chairman of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “I think it would be really worthwhile considering. Economically if we were going to have that I think we should engage and work on it to minimise disruption but maximise the economic benefit.”
York Outer MP Julian Sturdy said: “In principle, I would welcome the idea of connecting York to the high-speed rail network.
“Such a proposal has the potential to bring substantial benefits to both the city of York itself and the whole of the North Yorkshire region more generally.
“Nevertheless, as with any such developments, there will be a number of local implications and the proposals would require a far-reaching public consultation.”
Mr Sturdy is a member of the Transport Select Committee which recently gave the HS2 scheme qualified backing, and he admitted he still has concerns over whether the Government has picked the best scheme.
He said HS2 risks being a “costly disappointment” if the Government does not have a wider strategic transport plan with better aviation, shipping, road and classic rail network policies as well.
“High-speed rail has a key part to play in the UK’s future transport networks, but it must not be seen as a substitute for other transport investment projects,” he said.
A spokesman for HS2 said Ms Greening is likely to be presented with several route options before the end of the year, but said any talk of details or stations was “speculative”.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said HS2 Ltd was engaged in “detailed planning work” for options for the two branches of the network.
“Connections on to the existing West and East Coast main lines would also be included, allowing direct high speed train services to be operated to cities including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Liverpool,” he said.
“Further consideration will also be given to extending the network subsequently to these and other major destinations,” the spokesman added.