The government has said it is set to deliver the biggest investment ever in Britain’s rail network, but this looks likely to be at the expense of the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds, which is almost certain to be cancelled.
The release of its long-awaited £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan will happen on Thursday morning, 218 November 2021. In an advance statement, the government promised that this consolidated plan will “level up” more places more quickly than the separate Northern Powerhouse and HS2 plans otherwise would have.
The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), the government said, will mean changes deliver services ten years ahead of the otherwise projected mid-2040s.
In its ‘trailer’ press release, the government has said the IRP will:
- Transform journeys to and between the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West;
- Deliver stronger connections between major cities in the North and Midlands;
- Bring better local routes, as well as high-speed services;
- Consider the £360 million allocated to improving the fares system, as detailed on Wednesday.
It gives no details specifically on the hoped-for eastern leg of HS2 but says the “IRP delivers journey times which are the same as, similar to or faster than the original HS2 and Leeds-Manchester proposals, while doubling or trebling capacity and ensuring passengers and consumers benefit from tangible changes more quickly.” This makes one speculate that HS2 phase 2b (east) – from Birmingham to Leeds – will be cancelled and replaced by an upgrade of existing lines.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “If we are to see levelling up in action now, we must rapidly transform the services that matter to people most.
“That’s why the Integrated Rail Plan will be the biggest transport investment programme in a century, delivering meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly – with both high-speed journeys and better local services, it will ensure no town or city is left behind.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Throughout the pandemic, we stood by our railway and invested billions to keep the country moving, and we are about to unleash a £96 billion programme of investment that will transform a Victorian network into one befitting a modern country.
“The Integrated Rail Plan is designed to deliver for everyone, much sooner than under previous plans for rail schemes drawn up a decade ago, which no longer fit the way we travel today.
“Our plan will deliver a network that is fit for passengers today and for future generations – a network that works for every community and every passenger, right across the UK.”
The almost-certain cancellation of HS2’s eastern leg isn’t going to be popular amongst great swathes of people and politicians in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East. One early reaction came from Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, who hit out at “this government of broken pledges”.
“This government is not levelling up – as it has repeatedly promised to do – but levelling down,” he said. “This is not the green, efficient, modern railway of the future we were promised but a dodgy decision based on bad advice that means millions of people will not benefit from this project.
“HS2 was meant to be a world-beater, and put Britain, the country which gave the railway to the world, back on the industrial and economic map. Instead, the Tories are letting us down. Not levelling up, but punching down on the North.
“This government is a government of broken promises. It has announced Northern powerhouse rail an incredible sixty times – and I know because we’ve counted – and now it puts the project in the bin.
“They have tried today to claim their new plans will deliver comparable benefits more quickly and cheaply. But that’s not true. It’s smoke and mirrors from a government which won’t, we now see, deliver for people in the north.”
Mick added: “HS2 was never only a high-speed rail link. Detractors like to say it only shaves a few minutes off the time between Birmingham and London, but HS2 was meant to make it quicker and easier to travel the length and the breadth of our country and to free up pathways on the East and West Coast main lines for more passenger services and for more freight trains.
“This decision means that lots of people will not enjoy the benefits of HS2 and the project will no longer free up routes for other services.”