A series of key improvements to the UK's rail network has been proposed to the government in an effort to "strengthen the union". The High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) submitted seven transport improvements to Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review that they believe will safeguard the strength of the UK economy.
Among the ideas are upgrades to the existing Glasgow/Edinburgh to London and Birmingham/Manchester to Glasgow/Edinburgh to add capacity and reduce journey times.
The proposals also call for an extension to the Borders railway, offering a "useful diversionary route" from Carlisle to Edinburgh.
In addition, the group would like to see a link between Edinburgh/Glasgow and London to Belfast, with the provision of a cross-Irish Sea rail tunnel. They say it will bind "Northern Ireland closer to Great Britain, and help address challenges in the post-Brexit Northern Ireland economy".
Jim Steer, HSRG Board Member, said: “There is an urgent need for both new and improved transport links between the four nations of the United Kingdom, which have been systematically neglected for too long. Cross-border travel markets for rail were growing strongly over the period to 2019. Travel generates economic value, but the opportunity for further economic stimulus from this source will be lost if transport network capacity constraints are not addressed. Building on the transformative impact of HS2 - HSRG are calling for these cross-border rail links to be addressed as a matter of urgency, safeguarding the strength of the whole of the UK economy in the years ahead.”
The seven proposed improvements called for by HSRG are as follows:
1. Glasgow/ Edinburgh – London: Crewe-Glasgow/Edinburgh WCML (north) route upgrade to reduce journey times (post-HS2) to 3h10 and ensure there is sufficient capacity to accommodate anticipated demand that HS2 will bring north of Crewe. Benefits: Economic boost to tourism and city based growth industries, a significant carbon reduction from air to rail modal shift, more capacity to add freight and reduce long haul HGV movements and Scottish access to HS1 and the European high speed rail network.
2. Birmingham/ Manchester – Glasgow/ Edinburgh: WCML (north) upgrade (as above) to add capacity and reduce journey times. Benefits: Carbon reduction from modal shift, in addition to huge expansion of the day/ half day business catchments in 4/10 of the UK’s biggest city economies.
3. Cardiff – Birmingham – Newcastle – Edinburgh: Convert ‘Y’ shaped HS2 network to an ‘X’, providing a direct connection between Cardiff and Edinburgh. Benefits: Provision of direct rail connections currently missing between Cardiff and Sheffield, Leeds, York, Tees Valley and Newcastle. In addition, would improve Gloucester’s rail connectivity and make South Wales a beneficiary of HS2. Also strengthens the case for investment along the northern half of the East Coast Main Line, in both England and Scotland.
4. Cardiff – Liverpool/Manchester: Upgrade of Newport-Crewe railway to accommodate additional and faster services (including between North/Mid Wales and Cardiff). Benefits: Cross-border link enhancements, provision of better north-south cross-Wales connections and better connectivity for the economically weak English border counties, especially Herefordshire.
5. Galashiels/Hawick – Carlisle: The Borders railway southern extension. Benefits: Useful diversionary route from Carlisle to Edinburgh at times of service disruption and strengthen the Borders region cross-border link in an area of poor roads, no rail service and low productivity.
6. Manchester Airport – Chester – Bangor – Holyhead: Route electrification and use of the proposed Manchester Airport western rail link to attract passengers and freight to rail and take pressure off key sections of the national motorway. Benefits: Boost to major businesses on North Wales/English border, enhanced labour market catchment for cluster of industries on the Mersey Dee border area.
7. Edinburgh/Glasgow and London – Belfast: Provision of a cross-Irish Sea rail tunnel with connecting rail links to Carlisle and Belfast. Benefits: Binds Northern Ireland closer to Great Britain and helps address challenges in the post-Brexit Northern Ireland economy, as well as increasing connectivity for South West Scotland.