After many years of protest, Sheffield’s business leaders have forced HS2 Ltd to abandon their unacceptable proposals for a parkway station at Meadowhall (6km from the city centre), and instead serve the existing Sheffield Midland station along a slow and congested route via Chesterfield. This will have the perverse effect of making London to Sheffield HS2 journey times 3 minutes longer than journey times to Leeds. The switch to Sheffield Midland will also do nothing to enhance HS2’s highly restrictive range of destinations, and HS2’s 2-track route from London to the West Midlands has no capacity to accommodate the 2 extra HS2 services proposed to terminate at Sheffield Midland.
HS2’s new proposed route to the east of Rotherham will also have the effect of significantly increasing journey times for any HS2 service operating through Sheffield – for instance the proposed Birmingham-Leeds HS2 service will have its journey times increased by around 20 minutes.
The new HS2 route will also compromise HS3/Northern Powerhouse Rail services between Sheffield and Leeds. These will be forced to share existing tracks with local services as far north as Thurnscoe (20km north of Sheffield) and achievement of the specified 30 minute journey time seems unlikely. Furthermore, there is no detail to show how transpennine HS3 services to Manchester will be accommodated at Sheffield Midland, or how the necessary upgrades at Sheffield Midland will be achieved without unacceptable disruption.
HS2’s failures are thrown into sharp relief by the vastly superior performance of High Speed UK (HSUK). Under the HSUK design, the centrally located former Sheffield Victoria station site will be developed as Sheffield’s new high speed station. It will also have platforms on the existing lines accessing Sheffield Midland. This will ensure full integration with local rail and tram networks.
Sheffield Victoria is far better aligned with HSUK’s proposed north-south and transpennine links, and it will sit at the heart of HSUK’s transformed national network. HSUK will offer hourly (or better) direct intercity links to all other principal UK cities, with journey times generally far superior to those offered by HS2. HSUK is also one third, or £21 billion, cheaper to build than equivalent elements of HS2 and HS3, and its hugely enhanced capacity and connectivity (vastly superior to that of HS2 and HS3) will enable the delivery of the promised step-change economic and environmental benefits.
Colin Elliff, HSUK Civil Engineering Principal, commented:
“It’s difficult to comment on the accuracy of HS2’s projected cost savings, but it’s quite possible that when the details of HS2’s new (and equally difficult) route east of Rotherham emerge, and when details of the upgrade of Sheffield Midland also emerge, these savings will largely evaporate. What is certain is that the changes will do nothing to improve HS2’s offering for the entire Yorkshire region. The switch to Sheffield Midland will have the effect of increasing HS2 journey times to Sheffield, and to cities further north, such as Leeds. It will also fragment the network even more, and raise yet more concerns as to the inadequate capacity of HS2’s 2-track route between London and the West Midlands.
This is sticking plaster engineering at its worst. HS2 Ltd’s belated attempts to address public concerns in Sheffield will do nothing to address the wider failings of the HS2 scheme. The very existence of the comprehensively superior HSUK scheme should demonstrate the total failure of the processes underpinning HS2. HSUK’s studies of HS2 Ltd’s published documentation also reveal compelling prima facie evidence of HS2 Ltd’s failure to give fair and proper consideration to better-performing alternatives.”
It is not just HSUK that has noticed HS2’s multiple failings. The media, politicians, business, third sector and even independent parliamentary bodies all have serious misgivings with HS2.
In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins describes HS2 as the ‘zombie train that refuses to die’ while Lord Blencathra, peer and former Conservative chief whip recently stated; “HS2 is a white elephant that if built will deliver appalling value for money. The current estimated costs are an underestimation and the final costs will be out of control, as they are with all railway construction projects. Furthermore, HS2 will not link with HS1 and provide no relief to the connectivity and capacity issues affecting the current rail network.”
In March 2016 campaign groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Campaign for Better Transport wrote to MPs expressing serious concerns over HS2, including a failure to serve the country’s rail network as a whole and HS2’s unsubstantiated claim of ‘no net loss to biodiversity’.
Peter Myers, campaigner and co-founder of 38 Degrees said, ” HS2 is way out of touch with what rail users need, the economy and the environment. Other designs such as HSUK must be fully explored. The next Prime Minister needs to rethink HS2, to ensure billions of £’s of tax payers’ money aren’t wasted, our countryside isn’t trashed by the biggest white elephant in UK history and that the future rail network is designed to give rail users what they really need”.
Most striking of all was the report released last week by the National Audit Office. The NAO flags numerous issues and concludes:
“HS2 Ltd has struggled to meet the overly ambitious timetable set for it by the Department for building delivery readiness, while also developing the programme. This will add to the challenge of delivering an already ambitious programme over the next few years. The programme is now facing cost and schedule pressures and, in response, the Department and HS2 Ltd are considering the impact of extending the phase 1 schedule by up to twelve months. Unless the Department and HS2 Ltd make forthcoming decisions promptly, with greater realism about timetables and full understanding of the trade-offs between costs, schedule and benefits, including the impact on the wider network, value for money will be at risk.”
Third sector, media and political criticism of HS2 seems to gel with popular sentiment surrounding HS2. According to a ComRes poll, just 1% of British adults say that high speed rail from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester (HS2) is their top priority for government spending, the lowest of all options tested.
In a time of economic uncertainty, the government proposal to spend in excess of £55 billion on a high speed line that will predominantly serve London is folly. HSUK, the viable alternative, must be explored.