*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…