The Mayors of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands have set out three alternatives to HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester, which was scrapped by the Prime Minister last October.
Andy Burnham and Andy Street announced their ideas at a joint press conference in Birmingham.
They have been joined by former Network Rail chief executive and HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins to prepare proposals which would mainly be funded by the private sector. They have formed a consortium which includes engineers such as Arup, Skanska and Mace while they have also been able to brief transport secretary Mark Harper, who is keeping ‘an open mind’.
Yesterday’s media event was staged on the same day that the Commons Public Accounts Committee had published a highly critical report about the remaining section of HS2 between London and Birmingham, describing it as ‘very poor value for money’ following the repeated cutbacks.
Andy Street said the cancellation of HS2 Phases 2A and 2B to Crewe and Manchester was a ‘tragedy’, and that the West Coast Main Line and M6 had no spare capacity, which meant alternatives were needed.
Andy Burnham said ‘doing nothing’ was not an option, because that would damage economic growth. He continued: ‘The country won’t be able to move in a timely way if we just do nothing,’ adding that relying on the existing rail and road links would leave the country with ‘a serious transport headache for the rest of this century’.
The options are to build a new railway on the same alignment as HS2 but one designed for a lower maximum speed to reduce costs, to upgrade the West Coast Main Line, or to add new WCML sections, effectively bypassing bottlenecks.
HS2 has been designed for 360km/h. Andy Street explained: ‘The key difference is obviously the question of speed. A lot of the cost in HS2, if you ask the design engineers, has come from this very uncompromising point about the speed.
Andy Burnham said it was ‘significant’ that ministers had given permission for HS2 and Network Rail to be involved in preparing their proposals.