UK: High Speed Rail Group Publishes ‘Exploiting the Potential’ Report

The UK’s High Speed Rail Group has published a report providing five recommendations for the next government to maximise the potential of high-speed rail.

Entitled, ‘High Speed Rail: Exploiting the Potential’, the report suggests a comprehensive long-term strategy to develop the UK’s inter-urban rail network.

Rendering of an HS2 train to be built by the Alstom-Hitachi Rail JV
Rendering of an HS2 train to be built by the Alstom-Hitachi Rail JV

The report calls for political figures to look beyond HS2 and to be open-minded about the potential for high-speed rail development.

In order to do so, it suggests five recommendations that would deliver new rail capacity and connectivity within the UK:

  • Develop, and stick to, a comprehensive long-term strategy for both North-South and East-West travel, prioritising the link from Birmingham to the North West, and the route across the north of England from Liverpool to Hull
  • Develop a funding model which allows the Euston station works to be completed and give the immediate go-ahead to the section of HS2 from Old Oak Common to Euston, avoiding any costly delays to the tunnelling work
  • Retain the present HS2 landholdings and avoid a costly fire-sale of land until those long-term decisions have been reached
  • Engage with the infrastructure investment community to explore all funding options. It does not have to be an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach with some assets, such as rolling stock and stations, lending themselves more easily to private finance than others
  • Recommit to work towards a 3-hour journey time from London-Glasgow/ Edinburgh, which would play a vital role in strengthening economic and social ties between the nations.

In recent years, plans for high-speed rail in the UK have been drastically reduced with the cancellation of HS2 between Birmingham and the North West and the removal of the section south of Leeds and to the East Midlands.

In contrast, the High Speed Rail Group notes that European neighbours continue to progress and leverage the vast benefits of high-speed rail.

To amend this trend, it is calling on politicians to learn from recent mistakes and set out a long-term strategy. This would include considering alternative funding models with private investment to deliver new high-speed systems more quickly and cheaply.

Dyan Perry, Chair of the High Speed Rail Group, said:

“We are delighted to launch our new Exploiting the Potential report today. Amongst the uncertainty and controversy surrounding recent decisions on HS2, it is imperative to take a step back and look at the UK’s high speed network as a whole before assessing where we should go next.

“If the UK is to achieve its growth and net zero aims, we urgently need to develop a comprehensive strategy for high speed rail travel, whilst thinking creatively to unlock the maximum investment possible. The next Government must take smart, long-term decisions to maximise wider benefits and reach regions calling out for investment.”

In particular, the group states that the strategy should prioritise links in the areas where the benefits would be greatest. This would include a new link between Birmingham and the North West to alleviate Britain’s biggest rail bottleneck on the West Coast mainline. In addition, it advocates for a new East-West connection across the north of England from Liverpool to Hull.

In actioning a long-term plan, the High Speed Rail Group asserts that the government could drive economic growth, meet net zero objectives and level up regional economies.

The report expresses that the physical infrastructure and engineering experience provided by HS1 and HS2 can form the foundation for a national high-speed network and calls on the next government to realise this vision.

The full report can be read here.

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