Businesses in the South West could benefit from high-speed rail links to the whole of the country if the HS2 network is changed to an ‘x-shape’ to run through the whole region, according to the author of a new report.
The study proposes changing existing ‘y-shaped’ plans for HS2, which seeks to cut journey times between London and the Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.
The proposed move to an ‘x-shaped network’,would allow for a new route from Birmingham to Bristol and Cardiff via Cheltenham, which could then potentially extend down to Devon and Cornwall.
Greengauge 21, a not for profit organisation, has suggested this could be achieved by electrifying lines from Bromsgrove station, south of Birmingham, through Gloucestershire to Bristol Parkway and then on to South West stations such as Plymouth and Penzance.
The report also calls for better connections between Birmingham Moor Street station, adjacent to and connected with the HS2 terminus being built at Birmingham Curzon Street station, with the eastern arm of the high-speed network. This which would allow HS2 trains running from the north to continue down to the South West.
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), an official body which provides advice to the Government on infrastructure, has backed plans for redevelopment that would link the two Birmingham stations via footbridge.
It has also lent its support to the Midlands Rail Hub Scheme from sub-national transport body Midlands Connect, which would provide new connections from the north and south into Moor Street station.
The NIC’s assessment will inform the Department for Transport’s Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and North, which it is hoping to publish within the next few months.
Jim Steer, Greengauge 21’s director, said the growing recognition for the need to decarbonise long distance rail routes would help encourage the Government to consider the report’s uncosted proposals, which would help to make HS2 a “truly nationalised” rail network.
Mr Steer said: “It’s terribly easy for politicians in London to think ‘we’ve sorted out the South West by electrifying the Great Western main line’. The link to London is important of course but so is the link to the rest of the country.
“I think it’s particularly important for business. If you’re weighing up whether to locate in Bristol or Taunton, you need access to a lot of things. It depends on your business of course, but being able to get around the whole of Britain is pretty important.
“These things do have a bearing on where businesses locate and the prosperity of the surrounding region.”
Commenting on the report’s proposal a Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We’re committed to bringing the benefits of high speed rail to the East Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond.
“Our Integrated Rail Plan will outline how projects, including HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, can work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers need and deserve, as quickly as possible.”
The Prime Minister announced in February last year that building of HS2 would go ahead and appointed Andrew Stephenson as a full-time minister to oversee the project.
This followed a government review carried out by HS2’s former chairman Douglas Oakervee, months of speculation about the project’s future and headlines of rising costs and delays.
Phase one of the scheme, between Birmingham and London, and phase 2a, between Birmingham and Crewe has been given government backing.
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Trains were due to begin running on the Birmingham line by the end of 2026. In a written statement to MPs in September 2019 Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it could be between 2028-2031 before the line opens.
Phase 2b, running from Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to the East Midlands and Yorkshire, will be under review which could lead to changes to the proposed route and stations. It had been scheduled to open in 2032-33 but its arrival has been pushed back to 2035-2040.
The cost of the whole project was in the 2015 project at just under £56bn. In the Oakervee review, which was leaked to the Financial Times last year, the estimate had almost doubled to £106bn.
Trains will be able to reach maximum speeds of up to 250mph on parts of the line. Travel times between London to Birmingham will be shortened from one hour and 21 minutes to 52 minutes, according to the Department for Transport.