Government review criticises HS2 high-speed rail’s rival options

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A REVIEW commissioned by the Government to examine alternatives to the proposed HS2 high-speed rail scheme has concluded they offer fewer benefits and would result in greater pressure on the network.

Just a day after business leaders urged the Government to start building work as soon as possible, the review, prepared by Network Rail, says the suggested alternatives to the proposed £32 billion project would fail to address long-term overcrowding on trains, could lead to further congestion and disruption to passengers.

The findings come just days before Transport Secretary Justine Greening is expected to give the go-ahead to HS2, which could cut journey times from Yorkshire to the capital by up to 50 minutes as part of a 225mph network that would link Leeds, South Yorkshire and Manchester to Birmingham and London by 2032. And they add weight to the Yorkshire Post’s Fast Track to Yorkshire campaign, which is supported by business leaders who say HS2 could be worth billions to the region’s economy. A decision on the project, which has sparked fierce debate, is expected possibly as early as Tuesday.

HS2 envisages a high-speed line built initially between London and Birmingham, to be completed around 2026, with a second phase extending the line to north-east and north-west England by around 2032/33.

The NR report looked at two schemes which instead suggest a series of improvements to the existing West Coast Main Line (WCML).

However, neither would provide enough capacity to meet the forecast demand for commuter services and both would result in long periods of heavy disruption for passengers while infrastructure work takes place.

It also concluded that neither would allow for growth in freight traffic and, in some cases, stations would be left with fewer or no train services. In the longer term, Network Rail said the proposed number of additional services would have a significant and detrimental effect on the reliability of the network.

The report concluded the proposed schemes “deliver considerably fewer benefits than a new line” and that while they “may offer limited and short-term opportunities for improving capacity on some areas of the route, the requirement for a new line to relieve capacity in the longer term remains and therefore would have to be delivered, in addition to these proposals, in any case”.

A Department for Transport source said: “NR has carried out a sober and independent analysis of the alternative solutions to upgrading and future proofing our railways and concluded that patchwork upgrades to the existing rail network simply will not resolve the huge capacity challenges we face.

“Our plans for a new high-speed rail network would increase hugely the number of seats for passengers available on Britain’s inter-city railways as well as freeing up space on current railways for more trains to operate and all with minimal disruption to the existing railway.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Alternative schemes to HS2 have been put forward which would deliver some short-term capacity benefits, but they would come at a heavy price in terms of disruption to passengers and the wider economy.” He added: “Critically, none of the alternatives would solve the most pressing capacity constraint at the south end of the WCML, leaving commuters unable to board packed trains at the busiest times of day.

“It is clear that relying indefinitely on incremental growth on the existing route is no longer a viable option. HS2 will not only transform travel between our major cities, it also represents the best solution for solving the looming capacity crunch on the WCML.”

Lucy James from the Campaign for High Speed Rail said: “This report is just the latest piece of evidence to show that HS2 is the only game in town when it comes to solving the capacity crisis on Britain’s railways.”