*Warning – blog in progress. I can’t digest and dissect a complex 162 page report in one sitting, so more later*!
Finally, after months of delays. revisions and leaks the Governments Integrated Rail Plan was released today. What it says about scrapping the HS2 Eastern link to Leeds comes as no surprise to most people as this shambolic Government has been leaking details for months. Under Johnson and in his usual contempt for the political structures and Parliament, policy is no longer announced to Parliament, it’s drip-fed to the media first.
And, as usual, Johnson has reneged on promises and lied through his teeth. Even his supporters can no longer be surprised. Here’s a masterclass. Johnson gave this speech in Manchester back in 2019. In journalism, were told to ‘check against delivery’. As my colleague in the rail press Roger Ford observed, with Johnson it’s a case of checking against reality. See how many broken promises are delivered here.
Johnson just can’t help himself. He’s been a liar all his life (he’s been sacked for it twice) but he doesn’t care because no-one in his political career’s really ever held him to account for it – including the electorate. He’s lied again in the forward to the IRP, where he’s said;
“Our plan delivers high speed journeys, but also helps places on the existing lines. It creates new journey opportunities, but also serves the places people already want to go. It helps smaller places as well as big cities. It connects better with local public transport networks. It creates the capacity the rail network needs, in a way that can be delivered. And crucially, it brings benefit up to 10 years sooner.“
He just can’t help himself. 10 years ‘sooner’? Jon Stone of the Independent speared that lie by quoting from the actual report.
Grant Shapps pants are also on fire. He claims this in the IRP;
“Our plans go above and beyond the initial ambitions of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail by delivering benefits for communities no matter their size, right across the North and Midlands, up to 10 to 15 years earlier“.
So, Johnson’s and Shapps raison d’être for cancelling the Eastern leg of HS2 and carving-up Northern Powerhouse Rail falls at the first hurdle. It’s exposed by the very report Johnson’s (ghost) written the forward for – but that’s no surprise as it runs to 162 pages and there’s no way on God’s green earth that Johnson (a man notorious for having no interest in or attention to detail) will have ever read it. This is not his work. In fact, when you read the report (and I have been doing). It becomes obvious how it’s been butchered and interfered with politically. So much of it is either contradictory or makes no sense. This is not about delivering projects ‘faster’, this is about saving a few quid in the short-term, and reneging on promises whilst dressing it up as something bigger, shinier and better. Johnson’s complained that building HS rail is ‘grindingly slow’ but deliberately ignores that much of the reason for this lies at his door! How many times has the project been delayed by Government reviews?
There’s so much nonsense at so many levels in all this, but I’ll start with the political.
Johnson’s wrecked political consensus for no good reason whatsoever
To find things that all the major political parties agree on is rare. HS2 was one of them. It’s had the agreement of all three major parties (and the SNP) since inception in 2009. It’s survived four Governments and four Prime Ministers. For Johnson to tear that up and make it a party-political issue is a sign of supreme ineptitude. There was no reason to do it. The reaction from Northern MPs of all parties (including his own) as well as other political leaders, businesses and the media shows just what a dumb political miscalculation this was. And all for what? The reaction of the media in the North has been equally savage, with the Sheffield Telegraph pulling no punches…
The result of his decision (or rather, going along with whatever some advisors have written for him) is to trash the Governments reputation in yet another area. Forget ‘levelling up’ the North-South divide. This policy paper lays out the fact there’s not only no levelling up, there’s now a new divide – an East-West divide. London, Birmingham, Crewe and Manchester and the rest of the West coast get and benefit from HS2. The East? The East can get stuffed! Derbyshire, Yorkshire and the North-East are part of that new divide. They don’t even get any crumbs for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ table. HS2 East ends in the East Midlands. After that, all anyone else can expect is upgraded lines which will severely limit capacity to enable higher-speed (but not HS2 speed) trains to run on them – with all the consequent damage to local, regional and freight services this will entail. Even the new ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ lines Johnson promised so often won’t get to Leeds. Instead, we’re told the only new line will be from Manchester to ‘East of the Standedge Tunnel’ which is just over the border into West Yorkshire!
Politically, the question now is will Labour be smart enough to capitalise on Johnson’s obvious betrayal on his commitments to ‘levelling up’ the North-South divide (never mind creating a new East-West one) and threaten to claw back the so-called ‘red wall’ seats Labour lost under the disastrous leadership of Jeremy Corbyn? After all, Johnson’s left them an open goal…
The reaction from political leaders and the media right across the areas that would have benefitted from HS2 and NPR has been pretty damning (and ‘damning’s a word I hate using as it’s often a journalistic cliche, but not in this case). The political fallout from these decisions is not going to go away. Johnson’s managed to upset Northern politicians of all political colours – including his own.
Johnson’s financial sleight of hand.
In typical ‘look over there’ tactics. Johnson has spun the cuts he’s making to HS2 and NPR as “the biggest ever public investment in Britain’s rail network”. £96bn is quoted. Now, ignoring the fact more than this has been invested in the railways since privatisation by successive Governments, this figure disguises the fact that if Johnson had kept his promises to deliver HS2 and NPR in full, the Govt would be spending £185bn (as it claims in the report preamble), so we’re £89bn short of what Johnson had originally promised. As Louise Gittins, Interim Chair of Transport for the North pointed out, saying “Our statutory advice asked for an over £40 billion network but the Government has decided to provide even less than half of that.”
Dressing up cuts to rail spending in the North as a ‘win’ is classic Johnson. In fact, we don’t even know exactly how much will really be spent or what will actually be delivered as many projects that were expected to go ahead (like the HS2 Golborne link North of Warrington) have now been placed ‘under review’.
Johnson’s new East-West divide
This graphic from the Press Association show just how much of HS2 has been cut and how Johnson’s now built a new East-West divide.
Some opponents of HS2 on the Eastern leg have been celebrating the mothballing of the route, blissfully unaware that the route hasn’t been completely cancelled. In fact, the route will be ‘safeguarded’, meaning the blight they’ve suffered will continue.
The government also used the rail plan to recommit to transpennine electrification and the electrification of the midland mainline – projects which it had previously announced and then cancelled, only to re-announce. So, this isn’t new money, this is money that should already have been spent. The report also seems very confused about this, as this section shows.
This is hardly the only porkie. Transport Minister Grant Shapps has also been spinning like a top and got called out for it by Matt on Twitter.
It’s no surprise that Shapps is trying to spin. Remember this load of bull?
The biggest loser in all this is Yorkshire. Leeds was meant to have gained a brand-new HS2 station that would have relieved that notorious bottleneck that’s the existing station. There was meant to be a dedicated high-speed line all the way to Birmingham (scrapped as far as East Midland Parkway) plus a spur to Church Fenton to take HS2 trains onto York, freeing up capacity on the ECML between York and London. That’s been canned too. Instead, we’re meant to be getting an ‘upgraded’ East Coast Main Line. There’s only one teeny problem.
The whole raison d’être of a dedicated high-speed line was the fact it added capacity to existing lines by taking high-speed, non-stop intercity trains OFF the existing lines. Now, we’re being told the ECML will be upgraded to 140mph to allow the existing trains to be speeded up. This does the OPPOSITE of adding capacity! It means some stopping services will have to be cut to make space for them. Even replacing some sections of four-tracking isn’t going to be able to prevent this – and you still have the bottleneck at Doncaster to contend with!
So, instead of getting a network of HS lines across Yorkshire and a brand new HS2 station in Leeds, Yorkshire gets;
“a study to look at the best way to take HS2 trains to Leeds, including capacity at Leeds Station”.
Bradford. Shafted again.
Another big loser from the Government’s climb-down on NPR is Bradford. Forget all the ideas of a new station or new line. All Bradford gets is the promise of electrification of the line to Leeds and faster, non-stop services to that city. No mention of how these new services are going to fit into the already congested Leeds station now it’s not going to have capacity released by HS2. Instead there’s just more vague promises, as Shapps says in is forward;
“IRP provides £100m to to look at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds, including understanding the most optimal solution for Leeds station capacity.
We already knew the answer to that, Shapps, but you’ve gone and scrapped it…
Right, let’s have a look at what the Executive summary tells us. It claims the Govt will build three new ‘high-speed lines’. Really? One has been on the drawing board for years – the HS2 line from Crewe to Manchester, so it’s hardly ‘new’, just a reannouncement. Oh, and they’re not even planning to build all of it either. The vital Golborne link which will bypass the WCML bottleneck at Warrington is yet another project that’s ‘under review’.
The second is the rump of HS2 East, from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway. This is also only ‘new’ in the sense it’s not been built, despite having been announced years ago.
The only really ‘new’ bit is this.
“On Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), we will build a new high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire”.
But even this is being dishonest, because much of the line isn’t new at all, as the report admits;
“we have chosen the first, a mix of newbuild line and upgrade via Huddersfield, and extended our
commitment to Liverpool (giving 40 miles of new high speed line), and York. NPR trains will use fully electrified, expanded and upgraded conventional lines between Liverpool and Warrington, and from the east of Standedge tunnels to Leeds.
The truth is, much of this is plans to reuse the former freight line from Ditton East Jn near Widnes to Warrington Bank Quay (where the low level station would be reopened) then Eastwards, one assumes over the former line to Manchester that was closed back in the early 1980s. Quite how this will be reconfigured and rebuilt as a ‘high’ speed line is a very good question! As always, the devil’s in the detail. Well. it would be if there was any!
It’s the same with the next claims, such as;
“We will fully electrify and upgrade the Transpennine Main Line between Manchester, Leeds and York”
The report says;
“Previous plans involved only partial electrification of the route, partial digital signalling, one section of four-tracking and very limited freight improvements. Recognising that the Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) will now be significantly expanded to enable NPR, it will be managed as the first phase of NPR. We
will now electrify the whole route, install full digital signalling, and add longer sections of three and four-tracking to allow fast trains to overtake stopping services, leading to an initial increase in through passenger services of 20% compared with the preCOVID-19 situation, with further additional services running once the new link to Manchester Piccadilly is in place. We will improve clearances for freight, allowing increased goods operation and taking thousands of lorries a month off the M62. This first phase
will allow electric services between Liverpool and Newcastle, result in significant improvements to local services all along the line, and reduce journey times from Manchester to Leeds from 55
now to 33 minutes. Once the newbuild high speed line between the Standedge area and Manchester Piccadilly opens, under later NPR phases, it will further reduce the journey to 33 minutes and
increase seat capacity by over 300%”.
So, no new line to Leeds, just a rebuilding (part of which was already going ahead) of the existing Trans-Pennine line via the Colne Valley via Huddersfield. In fact, the ONLY new section of line will be from East of Manchester Piccadilly through to the Marsden area just East of the existing Standedge tunnel – and that’s all we know – as there’s no details.
So, how’s this going to be gauge-enhanced for freight? OK, avoiding the existing Standedge tunnel is good, but there’s another elephant in the room here that’s not being mentioned. The original TRU plans ended at Huddersfield, as did the electrification. Why? Well, there’s two pairs of rather awkward tunnels immediately to the West of the station, the Huddersfield and Gladholt tunnels. You can see them here.
OK, more shortly…
Toton still gets a station, for local and regional services, so our friend Brent won’t be happy as all that development can carry on.
Wonder if somehow a non HS2 station won’t sink on the imaginary floodplains of Toton Sidings.
Peter McNiven said:
So, London to Manchester 71 minutes and London to Leeds 113 minutes. This shambles of a report is going to have long-term damage to Leeds’ economic competitiveness for decades. For connections between Leeds and Sheffield the plan is just to (drum roll) “undertake a study”. Forgive me for being underwhelmed. Put simply, if Leeds and Sheffield get left behind, then the whole Yorkshire economy gets left behind. As for the Bradford proposals……shocking. A deeply depressing episode for rail development in the north.
“Politically, the question now is will Labour be smart enough to capitalise on Johnson’s obvious betrayal on his commitments to ‘levelling up’ the North-South divide” – no.
And even if they did, Johnson will scream “Brexit” or “Immigration” and the northern voters will do what they are told.
We can’t have nice things in this country, and never will do.
David Lewarne said:
Labour has had chances in the past to do something about the railway industry and the capacity issues but they just kept kicking that can down the road. A lot of voters wont forget that in a hurry. But with BoJo and his croanies letting the north down and the bed-hopping of the lib-dems also still very much in the mind of voters, one has to ask the question what alternative does the voting public have? Theres always the greens vet they remain as divided and in-fighting as Labour….
As for our rail industry and HS2, I despair. This should have started construction 30 years ago when HS1 was completed and open for traffic on the day the channel tunnel opened. The french did it at their end of the tunnel, so why didn’t we? Instead we dithered about and wasted money on over-engineering TGV trains so they could trundle along a 60mph suburban railway in amongst 1950’s era slam door trains using fairground ride electrical equipment into a off route and bolted on temporary terminus that sees little use since its closure. HS2 already misses an opportunity by not being connected to HS1, now a significant chunk of its promised services and capacity and its raison d’etre is severely compromised. That will not only cost its BCR but will also affect capacity on two british main lines and the promised regional and freight capacity gains and enhancements will also be lost at a time when Orion is starting its door to door logistics service to combat city centre road congestion and environmental benefits. Just one week after COP(out)26 shut its doors! Ordsall is missing a vital piece of infrastructure at Manchester Piccadilly that prevents it from offering the promised capacity and is virtually unused as a result. Parts of NPR have now been dropped, meanwhile the OHLE ends abruptly at Church Fenton, south of York because HS2 was supposed to join the ECML here but now wont although a further study has been offered (how many studies and proposals do we need?)
We keep on talking about it, we are good at that in this country, but dithering on talking about it wastes the money we could be spending actually doing the job properly, the first time around. But when are we actually going to get on with it? Thats where we as a country fall down….
David Lewarne said:
oh, since you mention stalybridge, how much money did the extension cable from the power supply at Stalybridge to the start of the OHLE at Manchester Victoria cost when compared to the cost of actually stringing up the OHLE?
That electrification was essential to provide power through to wigan and bolton but was another project cancelled by grayling due to cost and so the extension cable was required instead. I would be very interested to see how the costs of the two compared…
I can’t express my dismay as a resident of the NE. Not that I wasn’t expecting something along these lines, as Johnson has never been a reliable man, as Max Hastings made clear. I, too, hope Labour will grasp the nettle and push the NPR and HS2E a reality, and no doubt if he’s still in politics BJ will claim the credit if that were to happen!
Hopefully with the work underway, all those who have so valiantly supported the building of the line will throw their weight behind getting the NE and cross Pennine works started
There seems to be to be an unhealthy fixation on if a promise (rashly made, but if not would have had all the criticism) to build in full a 2009 scheme that was devised to solve some issues and create a certain set of opportunities linking various places to London and Birmingham and delivering extra capacity on WCML, MML, ECML. The priorities have changed in the last 12 years (notably Liverpool to Leeds and beyond moving sharply up the agenda), the baseline situation is surely much less known than 2 years ago. Not to mention the cost is quite a bit higher than initially believed. Additionally I suspect there are significant advances in digital signalling that can help increase for example ECML capacity. In any field it is thus normal to ask if the previous scheme design and cost now delivers against the revised situation or if a better one is available.
It’s all about moving people from where they are to where they want to be and creating better agglomeration. So you would have to say, for example, that is you are wanting to get to/from central Nottingham or Derby this seems a vastly superior plan which should also concentrate more development which would seem to be a better idea.
There is too much journalistic fixation on the ‘what’ (i.e. what is built or not built) vs the ‘how’, i.e. how well does it deliver the objectives for a sensible investment. Also missing is a questioning of the ‘why’, i.e. do we have the right objectives? But just to say “we should build HS2 Easter leg regardless” is really not good enough without addressing first the “why” and the “how” and the alternatives which the document explains well in many cases and is a bit woolly in others (probably where the arguments have been about).
I do agree though that the document is clearly agreed at the last minute as there are quite some inconsistencies through it and it is also I would say much oversold in how quickly it will be in place. I think there is also room left to have a bit of HS2 between Sheffield and Leeds if that makes sense, but it seems, sensibly, the idea is to see if the much needed Leeds rapid transit system can free enough capacity in the existing Leeds station to avoid having the original plan for a new HS station and if that could work surely a better solution — but decried as a broken promise.
To my thinking there are some open questions in the ‘how’, for example:
ECML & MML north speed upgrade, how feasible and risky
Dewsbury to Leeds capacity (I would view Warrington to near Dewsbury, with exception of Marsden to Huddersfield, as ‘new line’)
Hopefully we can soon get beyond the naked politics and look at the actual proposal
So every year you pause for another review. Do enough of those and nothing that takes longer than 6 months can ever be built because the next, politically driven, review will probably come up with another “wheeze” that will then be cancelled in the following review.
I’m not saying that you never review, but cancelling something like this is a massive decision. If we decide we are wrong, well, it’s too late to do anything about it.
Practically, I’d say that this is the death of any significant infrastructure building in the UK. If you need another example, look at the nuclear power station building projects – another long term build for long-term benefit that has stalled.
I fully agree there seem to be far too many ‘studies’ into more or less the same thing and sometimes by different bodies.
Cancellation or proceeding are both equally big decisions if we later decide we were wrong. I suspect with both Eastern leg north of the Trent and NPR in west Yorkshire there is no one clearly good solution, indeed East leg was often criticised for not directly serving either Nottingham or Derby and initially not Sheffield either. NPR going via Bradford has to my knowledge never been official policy, just a TfN aspiration, which always seemed a bit tenuous.
I don’t see why you think this is the ‘death’ of infrastructure building. In terms of quantity proposed there is not so much different in this plan as before. Nuclear is stalling, in part, as the costs are becoming astronomic vs alternatives, not to mention the huge timelines.
I think there is an advantage in following the NIC recommendation to have more small projects (by which I mean for example HS2b West, HS2 east to EMP, Warrington to Marsden) , what they called an adaptive approach: it’s much more flexible and probably also easier to get on with and could make it easier to continue a steady stream of projects within the resource capacity of the industry – I accept it probably also makes things easier to cancel as well.
As you correctly guess, small projects are easy to cancel – and there will ALWAYS be someone who wants to cancel them in favour of their latest pet idea. That person will probably be a politician, and they tend to exit the stage after a few months. So, any project that will take years simply can’t happen because it will be under constant review, and if you have enough reviews, one will decide to cancel.
Another good example is Heathrow airport – 3rd runway currently 30 years in the making. That’s 30 years of blight for those in the shadow of it, and 30 years we haven’t had what many consider an essential piece of infrastructure.
You could build a version HS2 piecemeal, even one sleeper at a time, but you’d end up with a mess with no integration and every step taking forever as a myriad of different committees argued over each one. The overall costs would go through the roof too, but as long as plenty of consultants, lobbyists and special interest groups are kept happy, I suppose that’s all that matters. Heaven help us if we developed some engineers instead, as HS2 is doing.
I repeat, Britain will NEVER build the infrastructure it needs. The UK workers are already less productive than their German equivalents because of lack of infrastructure investment and that is never, ever going to change.
It’s hard to look beyond the naked politics of this ‘plan’. There have been decent high level strategic reports on rail over the years – I think of the HS2 command papers, traction decarbonisation, various regional rail strategies. But this report is pure politics.
Why is it ‘pure politics’ to have an idea how you integrate better HS rail to the rest of the network? You may not agree with the proposals but interested to know how you know they provide obviously worse value for money due to politics dictating them.
I think had integration been better thought of in 2009 the original HS2 Eastern leg could well have looked different and there could have been a connection, or at least provision for one, in Birmingham from the HS lines towards the SW and South Wales.
HS2 originally was designed to answer a certain set of needs. Those have changed. For sure it’s the politicians who set the needs based on what they perceive voters to want. As the next election is a max 2.5 years away should another set of politicians get elected by proposing a different set of priorities then I don’t suppose much time will have been lost.
Why is it pure politics? Because it lies about timescales, it lies about local services and it blatantly doesn’t integrate anything. It rips up around 100 miles of planned high speed line and assumes the existing network can handle the additional traffic instead. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the reality of the existing network should understand the foolishness of such a proposition. The answer in the ‘plan’ is unspecified upgrades which may shave a few minutes off here and there but will require local services to be downgraded in order to timetable faster trains.
As for ‘answering a certain set of needs’ which no longer apply, tell me how demand for transport in the country has fundamentally changed? It’s a pathetic Tory excuse to cut out large sections of the country from any meaningful rail improvement. A glance at the timescale in the plan immediately show that the PM and SoS for Transport are lying when they say it will allow quicker improvements to local services.
Seems I cannot directly continue my conversation with Phil so placing comment here. Small vs large projects and pro’s and con’s. Germany seems to build it’s rail infrastructure by series of smaller projects for sections of HS lines, for example the project between Ulm and Stutgart at the moment. I would also suggest that smaller projects can be easier to agree as being the right thing and should get from idea to opening far quicker. As for LHR 3rd runway I agree, but maybe a blssing in disguise and I would imagine not many local politicians in favour as it would be quite detrimental to their chances at the next election!
Fine, do it in stages then. The French did that for Paris-Marseilles. And of course that was the plan for HS2 as well – Phase 1, 2a, 2b (west), 2b (east). The delays to HS2 are nothing intrisic to the project, rather it’s been caused by endless reviews of the project and Treasury refusal to spend money on infrastructure.