Greengauge 21, a non-profit organisation dedicated to transforming the rail network in Britain, has published a report, Beyond HS2, which envisions a specific strategy to shape the railways across the country over the next few decades. The report advocates that the UK should re-orientate and expand its rail network around the objective of increasing national productivity.
The railways should be reconfigured so that the “hub-and-spoke” model focussed on London should be transformed into a truly national railway network which creates “hub” stations in different cities across the country. One of the most striking suggestions is that HS2 be reshaped from its current “Y” layout into an “X,” which incorporates a connection in the West Midlands, so that the trains using it can operate between that region, Bristol, Cardiff, the North of England and Scotland. The report includes several other key proposals which incorporate every area of the national network.
• Integrate HS2 into the national network and incorporate upgraded fast routes from Birmingham to Bristol Parkway, the South West and South Wales.
• Upgrade the East Coast Main Line so that passengers in the North East can access London without using indirect HS2 services.
• Build new high-speed lines between Scotland and London, Essex & East Anglia, London, Stansted, Cambridge and Colchester.
• Transform the east-west connections to the north of England so that Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull are linked on the same line, which would enhance their capacity as an economic unit.
• Build a new rail connection from Kent to Essex to provide a freight link to London which bypasses the M25.
• Build city region rail networks to support growth strategies in these localities.
• Build direct rail services from Heathrow Airport across the country to support its status as a national hub airport using the proposed new western rail link, and from Manchester Airport to Sheffield, Chester and North Wales.
• Build new rail connections between towns in the East & West Midlands, North East England, South West England, Yorkshire and the North West, Scotland and Wales.
• Bypass the line along the Dawlish sea wall by creating a route from the north of Exeter via Okehampton.
• Create a national network of inter-urban buses which link to the rail network at a series of economic hub cities.
Jim Steer, Director of Greengauge 21, said:
“Britain lacks a long-term national railway strategy beyond HS2. We need a plan to put rocket fuel into our economic productivity and transform the connectivity of dozens of cities the length and breadth of the country. Fundamentally, we need to completely re-orientate the railway from a ‘hub-and-spoke’ centred on London to a fully national network. It is often said that rail needs a ‘guiding mind’ and we hope this report will show just what can be achieved by being prepared to think strategically.”
The report emphasises the importance of the railways in improving the poor productivity of the UK in comparison with other countries. In 2016 the Office of National Statistics positioned the productivity (GDP per hour worked) of the UK at 16.3% lower than the other six G7 economies, with the equivalent figure for 2015 having been 16.4%.
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