A LEADING transport think-tank has called for a railways revolution that it says would bring together the major cities of the North to create an “effective and powerful economic unit”.
The Greengauge 21 group issued a report today that sets out a vision for a high-speed rail network covering all of the UK mainland by 2050 – a system it claims would put “rocket fuel in Britain’s economy”.
One of the report’s key proposals is for new east-west connections serving Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Hull, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.
Under existing plans for the country’s north-south HS2 high-speed rail network, 250mph trains are scheduled to be running between London and Leeds by 2033.
But Greengauge 21 believes the UK needs to go further if it is to close a long-standing productivity gap with countries such as Germany, Italy and France.
The think-tank’s director, Jim Steer, said: “Britain lacks a long-term national railway strategy beyond HS2. We need a plan to put rocket fuel into our economic productivity and today’s report sets out proposals to do so.
“It is vital for the future of the country that no region is left behind, and the national railway strategy needs to reach all parts of the country.”
Mr Steer added: “Fundamentally, we need to completely re-orientate the railway from a ‘hub-and-spoke’ centred on London to a fully national network.”
Other proposals laid out in today’s Beyond HS2 report include:
An upgraded route from Birmingham to Bristol Parkway capable of carrying HS2 trains;
New high-speed lines in Scotland that would cut journey times between Edinburgh and London to three-and-a-quarter hours;
New routes in Essex and Anglia that would ease pressure on the West Anglia and Great Eastern main lines.
The Government is already working on plans for a Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme, also known as HS3, that would link cities such as Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.
Speaking earlier this month, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said it was “more likely” to be a 125mph route – half the speed of HS2.
Responding to the Greengauge 21 report, a spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: “This Government has an ambitious and clear strategy for the future of our rail network.
“HS2 will provide the backbone of our railway system, improving connections between our major cities, boosting productivity, delivering better journeys for passengers and driving economic growth across the country.
“With Crossrail (in London) nearing completion and plans progressing on Northern Powerhouse Rail, we are ensuring the whole country has the connections it needs. Whilst we may not agree with all recommendations in this report, it is an important contribution to the debate and underlines the need for HS2, delivering the rail network this country needs for the future.”
TODAY’S Greengauge 21 report also calls for the East Coast Main Line to be given its first major upgrade since Margaret Thatcher was in 10 Downing Street.
The electrification of the flagship route from London to Edinburgh via Yorkshire was carried out in the late 1980s.
Greengauge 21 also says that, with trains between Leeds and the capital running on the HS2 network from 2033, “better and new” London services could be provided on the East Coast line for Bradford, Harrogate and Hull.
The report comes with the route’s services on the verge of being renationalised after the termination of the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise.