HS2 'won't reach Leeds' as Integrated Rail Plan published within days
The Government's long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan is to finally be published in the coming week - but there are growing expectations that it will see the HS2 route to Leeds cancelled.
The Department for Transport has confirmed the IRP, which was originally due to be published by the end of last year, will finally see the light of the day this week although the precise date of publication has not been confirmed.
But the DfT has refused to comment on briefings given to the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times that the plan will involve the downgrading of the proposed HS2 Eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds so that the high-speed track will stop in the East Midlands before joining up to existing lines up to Yorkshire.
A DfT spokesperson said: "Work is continuing on the Integrated Rail Plan. We will publish it shortly and do not comment on speculation."
The briefings to both national papers suggest the IRP will be presented by the Government as a £96bn investment in rail routes in the North and the Midlands.
Previous estimates put the expected cost of the HS2 Eastern leg at £41bn prior to its expected downgrade in the IRP, while the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to create new high-speed links between Northern cities has put placed in the region of £40bn.
The Mail on Sunday suggest the IRP will include plans to cut journey times between Leeds and Manchester - a central part of the Northern Powerhouse Route proposals - by 20 minutes but it is unclear how this will be achieved. The Sunday Times states that Manchester and Leeds improvements will be achieved through "upgraded links".
The NPR proposals had envisioned a new line between Leeds and Manchester with a direct stop in Bradford but there have been growing rumours in recent months that this will not happen, with no direct link to Bradford included.
However, the Sunday Times states another element of the NPR plans - a new high-speed line between Leeds and Sheffield - will get the go-ahead, cutting journey times between the two cities from 42 to 24 minutes.
The Mail on Sunday also states a tram network for Leeds is also planned as a "consolation" for losing HS2.
A Government source told the newspaper: "This new plan will ensure that we have a truly integrated transport network. Journey times will be similar to or faster than the original HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail plans, and the trains will start running ten years sooner.
"Under the previous plans, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse would not have reached the East Midlands, Manchester, Yorkshire, and the North East until the 2040s.
"While the plan will help some of our largest cities, it will also strengthen ties between smaller towns."