REACTION to plans to vastly improve connectivity across the North of England, and turn the region into an ‘economic powerhouse’ countering London and the South East, has been intriguingly diverse – ranging from strong support in some Northern areas, much criticism in other Northern districts, and London-centric commentators drawing attention to ancient feudal and cultural differences between Northern towns and cities and, even, the Wars of the Roses.

Support for the plans, involving rail, roads and waterways which would cost up to £15 billion over the next 15 years, has come mainly from the ‘city regions’ with ‘combined authorities’ – Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Sheffield – that worked together to produce the proposals . . . while criticism has come mostly from other parts of the North not within city regions and not having combined authorities, such as Hull and Middlesbrough.

Further south, where many commentators remain ensconced in London, there has also been some incredulity that there is anything but diversity and adversity among Northern areas.

Certainly there has been a failure to recognise (even in some parts of the North, in my view) that the potential for Northern England can be compared with the economic powerhouses of mainland Europe – such as the Rhein-Rhür region of Germany (Köln, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Dortmund) with which I drew comparisons in my ‘Long View’ column in the May 2014 edition of RAILNEWS.

Now it is reported that one of the main groups campaigning against any new North-South high speed rail link, StopHS2, reckons that not only is HS2 unnecessary but so is a high speed link across the Pennines (HS3) – all that is needed, its campaign manager Joe Rukin is reported in Sheffield as saying, is to reopen a couple of closed lines: “Instead of spending £5 billion on one new Trans-Pennine route, you could spend about a tenth of that amount and reopen two of them by restoring 27 miles of railway, reopening the Woodhead line and the route between Colne and Skipton,” he said.

But Mr Rukin seems unaware that it is not possible to reopen the Woodhead tunnel because it is now owned by National Grid to be used as a means of carrying high-voltage power lines beneath the Pennines.

In November 2013 Stephen Hammond, then a Transport Minister, rejected suggestions that the former tunnel  (completed in 1953), should be retained, saying that if an additional rail route across the Pennines was ever required the best solution would be construction of a new tunnel.

The proposition – ‘to double the benefits of HS2’

AND that is exactly what is at the core of the proposition, put forward now by the North’s city regions under the banner ‘One North’. But it is not proposed as an alternative to north-south high speed rail plans, as StopHS2 suggests, but as a complement to HS2.

One North says European examples, including the Rhein-Rhür and the Netherlands’ Randstad regions, “show there is no fundamental reason why the North’s economic performance cannot be uplifted dramatically” and reckons that the new plans would double the benefits HS2 will bring to the North: evidence from earlier studies, it says, is that “improving east-west connectivity in effect brings to the North about the same benefit as does HS2.”

The nucleus of One North’s plan is a new 200km/h railway linking Greater Manchester (both the central business district and the international airport) beneath the Pennines to a delta junction with HS2, which should be built earlier than currently planned between Sheffield and Leeds – effectively a 21st Century version of the original Manchester, Sheffield and Wath (MSW) Railway.

To the west it would be extended to Liverpool (and possibly Chester).  To the east, as well as Leeds and Sheffield, it would extend to Hull and south to Nottingham.  And to the North it would join up beyond Leeds with the East Coast Main Line to York, Teesside and Newcastle – including a new line, with a speed of at least 225km/h, to relieve the existing ECML between Darlington and Newcastle to free up capacity for local and freight services around Teeside and Wearside.

This One North ‘proposition’ for passenger rail developments is just part of more ambitious proposals that include improving the North’s east-west motorway and trunk road system and – especially – east-west rail freight capabilities, including the key ports of Liverpool, Hull and Teesside.

The problem, I fear, is that critical commentators, including some politicians, have failed to read One North’s proposition in detail (at just 19 pages, it can be downloaded from ).

When they did so, they will see the proposals are developments to follow on from the £1 billion Northern Hub projects already underway, due for completion around 2019 – although, perhaps, even now not fully understood by all in the North – which include completing electrification of the North West Triangle (Manchester/Liverpool/Blackpool) and the Northern Trans-Pennine route (Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-York/Selby) – and completion of Midland Main Line electrification from the south to Sheffield.

In addition (although not well communicated) the Local Growth Fund deal announced by the government on 7 July included provisional approval for extending electrification from Selby to Hull – so complaints that One North’s proposition overlooks Hull fail to grasp that there are other schemes are likely to help, too.

Any confusion, in my view, is also due to the muddled way in which key issues such as trans-regional transport investment plans currently have to be dealt with at sub-regional level – because we continue to operate with a local government structure, developed by the Heath government in the early 1970s, now supplemented in England since 2010 by 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships, but no longer appropriate for the fast-moving, interdependent world we now live in (see my comments in the ‘Long View’ column in this month’s, August 2014, print edition of RAILNEWS).

The vision to 2030

BY 2024, One North anticipates further electrification would include Scarborough, and the Calder Valley and Hope Valley Trans-Pennine routes, together with new electric train fleets – “in addition to the well evidenced need for more rolling stock generally across the North” – as well as closing “network gaps” from the North East to South Yorkshire and northwards towards Scotland, and a rail/light rail connection to Leeds Bradford Airport.

Within a further two years, in 2026, One North foresees HS2 completed as far as Crewe – as already proposed by HS2 chairman David Higgins – providing additional capacity and capability for onward links to Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington and to inland freight terminals and ports.

Also by 2026, One North proposes a more reliable and speeded-up (225km/h) ECML, including a new Darlington-Newcastle route, plus cross city suburban services for Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford and Newcastle, all “provided by good quality rolling stock.”

Finally, by 2030, there would be the new Trans-Pennine corridor, based on Channel Tunnel operational practice, supplementing the existing North and South Trans-Pennine lines. This would be “a new 200km/h route, connected to the HS2 lines [either side of the Pennines] and the existing rail network, tunnelled as needed, linking the five city regions together with Manchester Airport and the ports,” says One North. “It will be a facility that will need to be planned for intensive use as a high-reliability all-weather central component in the North’s transport system.”

To the west, the new route would have “direct connectivity with Manchester Airport, Liverpool and Manchester, and to the east connectivity with Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Hull” as well as “recasting HS2 in Yorkshire [to] bring forward the Leeds-Sheffield section in conjunction with the new Trans-Pennine route”   In Leeds, One North proposes “to integrate HS2 into the existing Leeds Station” while in the Sheffield City Region it aims to “create connectivity with a HS2 station [the location of which is still being argued about] with east-west capability.”

Overall, the aim, is to achieve “transformed journey times between the five city regions and therefore for the wider North” – such as: Liverpool-Manchester, 20 minutes; Manchester-Leeds, 30 minutes; Manchester-Sheffield, 30 minutes; Sheffield-Manchester Airport, 30 minutes; Sheffield-Leeds, 30 minutes; Leeds-Newcastle, 60 minutes.

Rail freight capacity

IN addition, One North believes its proposals, combined with HS2, would free up much greater capacity for rail freight services, reducing pressure on the notoriously congested Trans-Pennine road network, notably the M62, by providing “a European gauge freight route across the Pennines, suitable for port-based logistics and unitised loads. This could also be used for Eurotunnel style lorry shuttles.”

One North adds: “The new Trans-Pennine route offers this capability as well as the potential for a drive-on facility for road freight, in the style of Eurotunnel. This could offer an all-weather Trans-Pennine freight capability, and transform the freight functionality of the North.” It says this would lead to:   – A 65 per cent increase in freight train movements between the north and the south.

– A 60 per cent increase in freight train movements accessing these south-bound corridors from Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield and surrounding areas.”

•  One North concludes that its “proposition is intended to be a constructive contribution to a debate which needs to take place over the coming months . . . to develop a strategic investment plan.”

The estimated cost, £15 billion over 15 years, spread over the entire North of England, is no greater than the investment now going into just one project in London.

According to The Guardian’s ‘DataBlog’ on 7 August, analysis with the Institute for Public Policy Research has revealed that “the £14.5bn total capital expenditure planned for Crossrail outmatches the £1.6bn earmarked for [current] rail projects in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the North West by nine to one”.


  1. All the above are excellent ideas and very desirable, but the proponents forget one thing: in this over centralised, (or rather over-southeast-ed country, everything has to pass through the blob which is Westminster/Whitehall, which is basically mostly interested in the south-east, as far as it is interested in railways at all! So by all; means keep on trying, but until we get devolved government to the regions of England, little is likely to happen. However such devolution was offered to the north-east some time ago and they, frightened that they might have to pay more for it, said no. So there you have it. Why bother! No one north of Watford gap is interested.

  2. My God, StopHS2 really want to have their cake and eat it this time. They are saying:

    1) We must listen to the northern local authorities who are saying they’d rather him improved rail links in the north than HS2 (not true – they want some nothern bits of HS2 speeded up, but skipping over that …)

    but …

    2) We must not listen to the northern local authorities wanting £15bn rail investment because StopHS2 says you should re-open two old rail lines instead and slash the budget by 90%.

    Either the north can be trusted to say what it wants or it can’t. You can’t have it both ways.

  3. Improvements to the trans-Pennine railways are, at the very least, desirable; but are One North’s proposals a case of putting the cart before the horse?

    Shouldn’t the starting point be to determine what is desired/needed in the form of journey times, frequencies, etc? Then, from this Network Rail and others can develop costed options. They could, for example, conclude that a high speed line between Manchester and Leeds giving a 30 minute journey time could be constructed for £X billion, but it would be a loss maker as it would have to miss Huddersfield; alternatively, one could be routed via Huddersfield for an extra £Y billion, but the journey time would increase above the 30 minutes required. These could be compared with alternatives using either upgrades to existing routes, or a combination of upgrades and new lines by-passing sections which have either capacity or speed constraints (or both); some enhancements seem to be possible.

    Take Manchester – Leeds; the present journey time is about 48 minutes (from Victoria, slightly longer from Piccadilly), with one stop at Huddersfield. How much could this be reduced by with investment? And how much would such investment cost?

    The LNWR “four tracked” its route across the Pennines in the late nineteenth century; this wasn’t a conventional “four tracking”, as between Stalybridge and Diggle Junction a completely new line was built – the Micklehurst Loop – and another, often referred to as the Leeds New Line, was built between Heaton Lodge and Farnley Junction (in Leeds). However, the section from Diggle Junction to Heaton Lodge was a conventional “four tracking” project, and although much of this has been reduced to double track route over time, if the former L&YR route through Mirfield is added there is a section of about 17 miles (between Diggle Junction and Thornhill Junction) which either is or could be restored back to four tracks. This equates to about 40% of the Leeds – Manchester route.

    Looking at Network Rail’s Sectional Appendix, most of it has maximum speeds in the 60-75mph speed range (there’s a maximum of 85mph through Standedge Tunnel); so if the route was restored back to four tracks with two of them optimised for use by tilting trains, what journey time savings would there be? Using a chart produced by Adtranz some years ago (and comprised within publicity material for its Swedish X2000 trains), curvature suitable for conventional speeds in this range should be OK for tilting ones running between 75mph and 105mph; so what journey time savings could high performance electric tilting trains achieve on this section?

    North east of Thornhill Junction, LNWR and GNR lines were in close proximity in the Dewsbury/Batley area; could four tracks be constructed there to permit faster trains to pass slower ones, thereby increasing capacity? And what about restoring the line from Farnley Junction to Leeds over the Geldard Road viaduct? The viduct is still in place, but the route has been obstructed at the Farnley Junction end by some industrial units. This is a bit shorter than the present route into Leeds, and even if only suitable for speeds of, say, 40mph, the combination of shorter route and avoidance of some of the permanent 25mph speed restrictions should result in minor journey time savings.

    At the west end, scope for enhancement is more limited – after all, the LNWR built the Micklehurst Loop because widening the existing route was perceived as being too difficult; but restoring all of Ardwick to Guide Bridge back to four track might might bring some benefits, as might re-alignment of tracks in the Guide Bridge and Stalybridge areas.

    Regarding Sheffield to Manchester, the Transpennine Express Cleethorpes – Manchester Airport trains typically take 51 minutes between the two cities using the Hope Valley line; a reduction to 30 minutes is, I believe, not possible just by using existing infrastructure, but some journey time improvements should be possible – it was the last of the trans-Pennine routes to be built and consequently has quite a good alignment so by re-signalling, increasing ballast depth, adjusting cant, etc, some benefits should materialise. But what if fast trains were to be routed via Marple thereby missing out the Stockport stop?

    There are at least two major restrictions to speed on this route; severe curvature between Gowhole and New Mills and at Romiley Junction. The speed through Romiley Junction could probably be eased considerably by using land already in Network Rail ownership, but it would be costly; the New Mills area is more difficult, but this could be a location where a short piece of new railway in the Disley area might help, bypassing New Mills completely.

    Reopening of Woodhead Tunnel is often suggested; unless Shefield Victoria station is reopened, major infrastructure works are needed to link this route to the existing [Midland] station. And unless such works were to be built, a Sheffield – Manchester service via Woodhead would only really be a connector between these two cities – existing connections between this trans-Pennine service and other services in South Yorkshire and beyond would be lost; moreover, the walk between the two stations isn’t pleasant – especially on a wet winter morning! Also, Woodhead wasn’t a fast route; Beeching part 2 shows it having a maximum permitted speed of 60mph (Hope Valley is shown as 80mph).

    Of course none of these options grab headlines as much as suggesting HS3 be built, and they wouldn’t give all of the benefits being claimed by One North as coming from their proposal. In reality the services already provided between the “City regions” within the north compare quite favourably with those described for the Randstad, and these should improve further upon completion of the Northern Hub; however, this isn’t the impression given by the One North report. “Current rail linkages are slow” claims the report; it doesn’t explain, for example, that the Sheffield – Newcastle services already run at 125mph for most of their journeys, and that the potential exists to speed-up the Reading – Newcastle north of Sheffield just by better timetabling. However, they would be cheaper, and might – and I emphasise the might – bring about what One North is seeking for the North of England; enhanced economic growth through infrastructure investment.

    But the starting point has to be the simple question “what is needed?” From this, a range of options can be developed, and after appraisal what is best for the North of England can be selected; hopefully, even Joe Rukin could get behind such a process, for he too is guilty of putting the cart before the horse by claiming that the reopening of 27 miles of railway is all that is required to solve the north’s problems.

    Sheffield to Manchester via Skipton, Colne and Blackburn anyone?

  4. Usual hogwash from StopHS2 who fail to understand new lines like HS2-3 are more about building lines to the much larger continental gauge thus giving the country the major benefits of modern railways enjoyed by much of the world !

    As for talk of Woodhead route well what passenger base would such a line have compared to a new line built direct beneath the pennies giving faster and shorter journeys . Proof of how these people are time locked in a past world !

    As for North v London well much investment in London comes from TFL and the London Mayor with new trains for original Overground and now the West Anglian expansion together with new S Stock trains .

    In the North wants more new trains then its councils need to be willing to invest in new trains and not just new roads whose users pay nothing back to use .

    The new battery electric train and tram train trials offer a possible solution to DMU replacement given how many branches won’t justify full 25kv electrification buy may become tram / light railways or battery extensions of electric trains .

    Manchester has shown how extending its Metrolink has helped provide modern trams more suited to demand can be successful and that’s what other cities need to adopt and not just in the north !

  5. Apparently TPE was offered 6 car “baby pendolino’s”for electric Manchester – Glasgow / Edinburgh service, which would probably have made more sense than 350’s.

    There is much talk currently about improving links between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle besides one or two other large northern cities. Perhaps this might be acheived without major infrastructure expenditure simply by employing “baby pendolino’s” or diesel ” super voyagers” on Liverpool – Newcastle service. Their tilt facilities could speed up times on the curvaceous Mancherter – Leeds section whilst their 125 mph capability could accelerate timings north of York.

  6. In Leeds we really do need improvements in public transport. Even new bus services would be good, but I also want to see improvements in the local commuter rail services. I’d like to see more electrification in the Leeds area and more lines (if possible by re-opening closed lines), so that we can have a better commuter service. I read somewhere that Leeds is one of the biggest cities in Western Europe that doesn’t have either a light rail / tram service or a metro service.

    As for One North’s proposals, they sound very interesting and exciting to me. I would still love to see HS2 being finished much sooner to give the benefits to the North quicker, hopefully by running it in existing transport corridors to minimise environmental and aesthetic damage. With regards to HS3, wouldn’t improving the Northern network by electrification, ERTMS and faster electric tilting trains be a cheaper and quicker solution? The same result would be achieved in terms of the service provided, although we wouldn’t be getting new lines. It’s something to think about, but the main thing is that the Northern public transport network is improved as the economic potential in the North is huge.

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