Nov 21, 2023·edited Nov 21, 2023Liked by James O'Malley

This story is relevant, promise:

I remember doing an InterRail in 1991 and riding on the then-newly-built TGV Atlantique. There were pictures up showing the current and future TGV network. At the time, there were only two sections of LGV (high-speed track) in France: the first was LGV Sud-Est from Combs-la-Ville (just outside Paris) to Sathonay-Camp (just outside Lyon) and the other was LGV Atlantique from Gare Montparnasse in Paris to Gare Saint-Pierre-des-Corps in Tours and to Gare du Mans in Le Mans. The "future" map showed a complete network - extending the line from Tours to Bordeaux and Toulouse and Bordeaux to the Spanish border and also from Le Mans to Rennes and Nantes, from Lyon to Avignon, Marseilles, Nice and the Italian border, building a new line north from Paris to the Channel Tunnel and east to Strasbourg and the German border, building a new line southeast from Paris through Dijon to the Swiss border near Basel, and building a new line northwest from Paris into Normandy (to Le Havre and Caen).

Most of these lines have been built or are under construction - Le Mans/Nantes was completely cancelled, Bordeaux/Spain is delayed, the Normandy lines are probably never happening, and Macron has some personal beef with Nice which means the line to Nice and Genoa won't happen until after he stops being President (but, even so, he won't fully cancel it; he just refuses to fund it). There are also two entirely new lines that weren't on the 1991 plan - the line from Avignon to Montpellier and Perpignan and the Spanish border (for Barcelona), which is nearing completion, and the line from Lyon to the Italian border (for Turin), where the tunnel through the Alps (Mont d'Ambin Base Tunnel) is being dug, but the connecting lines are still at the planning stage. I think the reason for these being added later is that they were motivated by the Italians and Spanish wanting to connect to France.

But the point here is that at the point that is the equivalent of finishing London to Birmingham, France had already announced a high-level plan for a national network. I saw that on a train in 1991, but I'm pretty sure it existed much earlier than that. We're talking about a plan for the next 40-50 years of LGV construction. Spain is pretty similar; they built their first line (Madrid-Seville) and then drew up a national plan and have, similarly, largely stuck to it.

The reason is that a national plan is pretty obvious.

Here's one for the UK:

1. A line from London to Birmingham.

2. A line from Birmingham north, passing between Manchester and Liverpool, continuing to Scotland and passing between Edinburgh and Glasgow before finishing at a connection in the Falkirk/Stirling area to the lines going to Dundee/Aberdeen and Inverness.

3. A line from Birmingham going east and then north, passing near Nottingham and then between Leeds and Hull, near or through York and terminating at Newcastle.

4. A line from Liverpool through Manchester, Leeds and Hull, connecting to both lines 2 and 3.

5. A line from Glasgow to Edinburgh, connecting to line 2.

6. A line from London to Bristol and Cardiff.

7. A line from Bristol to Birmingham.

The following lines are possible extensions:

8. A line from Southampton to link to the line from London to Bristol.

9. A line from Bristol to Exeter.

10. A relief line from London to Nottingham (to relieve London-Birmingham if there is too much traffic on that line).

11. If the relief line is needed, a line from that relief line to Cambridge, which branches at Cambridge and runs to Norwich and Ipswich.

12. A connection to HS1, probably from the relief line.

The advantage of announcing it like this is that you never cancel things, you just delay them - if it changes from "we'll build this in 40 years" to "we'll build this in 50 years", no-one really cares, but also it means that each section has to be designed so the future sections get built right: there's no way anyone would ever underbuild Euston if you know that the links to Manchester and Liverpool and Leeds and Newcastle and Glasgow and Edinburgh are going to get built eventually. There's no way anyone would propose a terminal station in Manchester if you know that a line to Leeds is going to happen at some point. At the moment, they are building a space inside Old Oak Common where the TBMs to go to Euston will be buried waiting to be used. This is so that when the Euston line does get the go-ahead, they can start digging out the tunnels immediately - because OOC is designed to be connected to that Euston line eventually.

Of course, you don't have to do the detailed plan of something you're not going to start building for 40 years, but you can incorporate the high-level fact into anything else you build (there are French cities that built tram networks connecting to their future TGV station a decade or more before there were any TGVs running into that station)

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Thanks for the detailed comment, Richard! This is the world I want to live in!

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If I was writing policy, I'd be writing a commitment to that high-level plan and to break it into individual projects and build those, each designed to link to the future ones.

And then to fund the individual projects based on the financial and economic circumstances at the time. Also to safeguard them as soon as you have detailed designs, even if they might stay safeguarded for many years.

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If cancelling London-Manchester meant cancelling Liverpool and Scotland as well, then it would be much harder for Sunak to announce a full cancellation. Announcing that he's not funding that phase at the moment is a different story. It would then be up to the Starmer government to say "OK, we're pulling this out of the deep freeze and building Birmingham-Manchester as well as the Manchester-Leeds section of the Liverpool-Hull line." Then a few years later they could go, "OK we're also reinstating Birmingham-Nottingham and we're having another look at the Nottingham-Leeds/York design". Then they could be lobbied by the Welsh and go "OK, we're doing Birmingham-Bristol-Cardiff instead of Nottingham-Leeds" and so on. At least everyone would be able to see that they were going to be got to eventually.

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PS: the back of my envelope says that the Old Oak Common to Euston line would be over capacity if everything gets built, even with London trains from Newcastle and Leeds diverted over the relief line to a second London high-speed station (probably Kings Cross). I make it three trains each from Manchester and Birmingham, and two each from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Cardiff, plus two from the Highlands, plus two from the south west, plus two from Southampton, plus one from Chester and North Wales for a total of 21 per hour. The maximum capacity for two tracks is 16. Fortunately, the only place where these are all sharing tracks is OOC to Euston (there would be two separate routes into OOC, one from Birmingham and the other from Bristol), so the solution would either be to four-track the OOC to Euston tunnel and expand Euston to 16 HS platforms, or to build a new two-track tunnel from OOC to a third London HS station, perhaps bringing the western lines to Paddington so the HS trains and the conventional trains to Bristol, South Wales and the South West all leave from the same station.

The second London station (on the relief line) would only be looking at seven or eight trains per hour unless you build the East Anglia lines, which add four more. That's an 8 platform station, probably built underground between King's Cross and St. Pancras (expensive, but all the other options require building at least one entirely new Tube line or Elizabeth-style line to get passengers from the station to the rest of London; one tunnelled station is much cheaper than Crossrail 3).

The total service leaving London each hour would be something like:

From Euston:

Three to Birmingham

Three to Manchester

Two each to Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh

One each to Inverness and Aberdeen

One to Chester (some extended to Llandudno or Holyhead)

From King's Cross:

Three to Leeds (via Nottingham and Sheffield)

Two to Newcastle (via Nottingham, Sheffield and York)

Two to Hull (via Nottingham and Sheffield)

Two each to Ipswich and Norwich (both via Cambridge)

From Paddington or Euston Extension

Three to Bristol and Cardiff

Two to Southampton

Two to Exeter, with one extended to Plymouth and sometimes Penzance.

There would also be trains from Cardiff and Bristol via Birmingham to Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Hull, Newcastle and Scotland, and maybe something from Exeter doing the same, but you'd likely change in Bristol from the Exeter-London train instead. The combination of these plus the Cardiff-London train means a very frequent fast Cardiff-Bristol shuttle (probably every five minutes).

There would also be a frequent Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds train (probably six times per hour, ie every ten minutes), with trains continuing alternately to Hull and Newcastle.

Glasgow-Edinburgh would also be every ten minutes, and there would be trains from both cities to Inverness and Aberdeen using the HS line to Falkirk/Stirling.

There would be some sort of east-west train running through the Midlands, going something like Norwich-Cambridge-Nottingham-Birmingham, probably terminating at Birmingham and relying on connections beyond there (Birmingham will be exceptionally well connected, and they can transfer at Nottingham for Yorkshire and Newcastle).

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It's interesting James, that for all your talk of 'green growth', your ambition is so limited and dare I say SE-focused? Does anyone else remember when "HS2" was meant to go all the way to Newcastle?

Building HS2 would of course be great for people in Manchester, but it's a stretch to say that it would generate "levelling up" - how could it when it would still take c.2 hours to get from Durham to Manchester? In practical terms, anywhere further north or east than, say, Leeds would not feel any benefit from HS2 in either 'completed' or 'truncated' form.

Which is all to say that I don't buy the argument that HS2 is so nationally vital that it requires deviation from the 'plan' - actually building HS2 as a proper piece of national infrastructure that is felt on the ground to benefit the nation on the other hand...

TL:DR - I am here for let's build three new high-speed lines in the next ten years (circumventing the planning and regulations if needs be). I couldn't really care whether the high-speed line serves only Birmingham or Manchester also. (I am aware that HS2 should really be called "Freight 2" but I would say that a new freight line is not really nationally important except in the abstract).

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It's possible I'm misunderstanding you but it seems to me that any 'green growth' strategy of any level of ambition getting off the ground seems less likely in a country that's just cancelled (a good portion of) a high speed rail line into which decades of work has gone, and the government has been allowed to salt the earth so it can never be continued. This is the low hanging fruit! I've always seen the choice between HS2 and 'X other infrastructure project' as a false dichotomy. Finishing HS2 creates conditions under which more can built (both literal off-shoots and things that can be built more readily in countries that have a reputation for *ever finishing anything*); leaving it unfinished and mangled... doesn't.

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Sorry SK, I think my earlier post wasn't clear. I agree that in a vacuum HS2 'should' be built (although probably not in the way it has been). My point was that if you think keeping fiscal rules is important (discuss!), then you should break them only for 'Big Bang' things with a clear national interest (national in the sense of benefiting everybody, rather than abstractedly 'in the common good'). I don't think HS2 to Manchester is clearly enough benefits-to-all to justify breaking the rule.

Original HS2 to Scotland, or even Richard Gadsen's proposal above, on the other hand...

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Nov 21, 2023Liked by James O'Malley

If only HS2 had been named the M6 relief line, it would never have been cancelled.

It is the M6 that will suffer now that freight capacity won’t be growing on a crucial section of the West Coast Line. It is the M6 that takes the hit when Manchurian motorists insist on driving to southern destinations because rail is so crowded and unreliable.

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“M6 relief line” is an *incredibly* good way of branding it.

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Mancunian, surely? The Manchurian Motorist is a film sequel from the 70s...

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😂My mistake

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One final thought. Even in its crippled state, HS2 will enable faster journeys to Birmingham than to many London boroughs.

Birmingham will become a suburb of London with interesting consequences.

Moving parliament into the Bullring has never looked more attractive. Westminster is far better off becoming a tourist attraction, while a new parliament building can be less confrontational, disabled friendly and welcoming for women.

Let’s go for it!!

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Is there really no way to link HS1 and HS2? It seems incredibly short sighted that we have little appetite for direct international services to places other than Paris and Amsterdam.

Given that the section of HS2 that is being built will be very underutilised, an international railhead at the Birmingham Airport site would make international services a lot more convenient for a vast area of the country.

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Ah, I felt like I was getting the wrong of the stick. Fair enough!

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No, I said (typed?) it in a hurry. FWIW I think 'fiscal rules' are nothing more than a silly little game so I wouldn't hesitate to break them on anything - but if they set stall by them, you have to have something pretty big to break them, is my view

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