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Beyond HS2 – a plan for a National Rail Strategy

Greengauge 21 has produced a new report – Beyond HS2 – which offers a comprehensive view of what Britain’s railway should look like by the middle of the century. Based on almost a year of work and analysis, the report concludes that our rail strategy should for the first time have a specific objective – to transform national productivity; using connectivity to put rocket fuel into what should be a national drive to transform productivity levels.

That thinking leads to a proposal for a re-orientation for Britain’s railway – from “hub-and-spoke” based centred on London to a fully national railway network that links a set of upgraded city centre “hub” stations. HS2 would be turned from a “Y” to an “X” shaped railway, with a new connection in the West Midlands meaning that HS2 trains could operate from Bristol and Cardiff to destinations in the Midlands, the North and Scotland.

The key proposals in the report include:

  • Fully integrating HS2 into the national network and adding an upgraded fast route from Birmingham to Bristol Parkway to carry HS2 trains, which would continue to the South West and South Wales, bringing those parts of the country into the HSR network.
  • A major upgrade of the East Coast mainline for the first time since the 80s, so passengers in the North East are not dependent on indirect HS2 services via Birmingham to reach London.
  • New high speed lines in:
    • Scotland – achieving a 3h 15m journey time from Scotland to London and shortening rail journeys from Edinburgh northwards dramatically
    • Essex & East Anglia – with a new high speed line from London to Stansted and beyond towards Cambridge/Colchester, alleviating the West Anglia and Great Eastern Mainlines, both of which are at capacity, and delivering a 15 minute London-Stansted journey time, transforming Stansted airport’s attractiveness
  • Transformed East West connections in the North of England, bringing together the major cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull to work as an effective and powerful economic unit
  • A new rail connection from Kent to Essex, uniting two regional economies to work more effectively together and provide a rail freight M25 bypass to London
  • A series of new and improved city region rail networks to support city-based growth strategies
  • New direct rail services for Heathrow Airport from across the country to support its national hub airport status using the planned new western rail link, and for Manchester Airport new services from Sheffield and Chester/North Wales using a new rail connection and unlocking a rail network capacity bottleneck in the process
  • Plugging in places “left behind”:
    • With new rail connections including for townss in the East & West Midlands, North East England, South West England, Yorkshire and the North West, Scotland and Wales
    • By Providing missing network resilience through building an alterantive route to the problem Dawlish sea wall, achieved by re-constructing the line via Okehampton and linking it directly from north of Exeter to match so that existing journey times to Plymouth and Cornwall cane be achieved
    • A new national network of linked high-quality fully accessible interurban buses, connected to rail at a series of economic mini-hubs.

Commenting on the publication of the report, one of its five co-authors, Greengauge 21 Director Jim Steer said “Britain lacks a long term national railway strategy beyond HS2. We need a plan to put rocket fuel into our economic productivity and today’s report sets out proposals to do so.”

“It is vital for the future of the country that no region is left behind, and the national railway strategy needs to reach all parts of the country. To transform productivity across the whole of Britain, we need to 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.”

“What we have published today provides a wealth of new analysis on connectivity strengths and weaknesses across the country. 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.”

There is a long-standing productivity gap in the UK, meaning that the output per worker employed in the UK is well below most of our major international competitors. Britain’s productivity continues to lag behind the average for the other six G7 economies, with ONS figures showing a gap of 16.3%.

Compared to our European neighbours, the UK’s productivity is lower than Italy by 10.5%, lower than France by 22.8% and lower than Germany by an astonishing 26.2%.

These figures are calculated on a current price GDP per hour worked basis.