Some of the world’s leading rail experts will meet in Birmingham this week to work on detailed plans for new services to replace the axed northern leg of the HS2 rail link.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper gave West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham the green light to continue work on the project following a summit, which this paper first revealed was taking place, last week.
The regional leaders hope to develop a privately funded scheme that will run between Birmingham and Manchester after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last year cancelled HS2’s northern section.
Options include significant upgrades to the existing West Coast Main Line or a line created through private investment which high-speed trains would use.
Mr Burnham has warned that failing to provide new rail services would create “a major transport headache”.
“You could argue that we have that now anyway,” he said. “But when 2030 and 2040 come round, there is no way on God’s earth that the M6 and the West Coast Main Line will be capable of servicing the growth that we are seeing in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.”
The group is looking at the example of France, where the TGV high-speed rail line was extended using private financing.
Engineering giants Arup, Arcadis and Mace, as well as accountants EY, are helping work on the mayors’ plan.
The Department for Transport argues that scrapping the northern leg of HS2 has freed up cash to pay for other transport projects such as the Midlands Rail Hub, which is receiving £1.75billion to improve rail across the region.
Last night, a DfT spokesperson said: “HS2 has the potential almost to double capacity on the most congested part of the West Coast Main Line.
“And, thanks to our plan to reallocate £36billion of HS2 savings, we’re able to invest in projects to improve rail capacity across the entire country.”
“This includes funding the Northern Powerhouse Rail to improve journey times, capacity and frequency of services across the North from Liverpool to Hull.”