HS3 rail link needs 'kick-starting', report concludes

Manchester Piccadilly train station Image copyright Getty Images

HS3, the planned fast rail link between Manchester and Leeds, needs "kick-starting" as part of a broader plan to improve transport links in northern England, a report has concluded.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) also called for improvements on the most congested part of the M62 motorway to be sped up.

The government is set to commit £300m for transport projects in the Budget.

It is also expected to fund the start of work on the Crossrail 2 rail line.

'Economic boost'

More details are expected in the Budget on Wednesday, although almost half of the transport money committed was announced in last year's Autumn Statement.

The Crossrail 2 project will link Hertfordshire and Surrey and tunnel beneath central London, passing through Tottenham Hale, Euston-St Pancras, Tottenham Court Road, Victoria and Clapham Junction. It is planned that the line will open by 2033.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Crossrail 2 project will link Hertfordshire and Surrey and tunnel beneath central London

Speaking on Tuesday, Chancellor George Osborne said: "In the Budget tomorrow I'm going to give the green light to Crossrail 2 in London and the new High Speed 3 link across the north of England."

He said that improving transport links would "be a huge boost to the economy of the north of England and the whole of the United Kingdom".

HS3 and M62 work: Transport improvements 'too little, too late'

Lord Adonis on northern transport plans

But Lib Dem leader Tim Farron dismissed the plans as "fantasy infrastructure" that would not be built for 20 years.

'No big bang'

The chancellor is expected to commit £75m to explore plans for a new trans-Pennine road tunnel and bring forward £161m for upgrades to the M62 Liverpool-Hull motorway.

The former Labour transport secretary and chair of the NIC, Lord Adonis, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that transport improvements in the north of England were already being undertaken.

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Media captionLord Adonis says it's time to "start joining things [things] up"

He said these projects - including the electrification of the railway line between Manchester and Leeds - should be "seen as the first stage on the road" towards HS3.

Lord Adonis said electrification of the Manchester-to-Leeds railway line would bring journey times down to 40 minutes, with HS3 cutting journey times to 30 minutes.

"This is going to be a phased approach. It's not going to be one big bang like HS2, which is the creation of a completely new line from nothing," he told the BBC.

"It will be a mixture of improving the current line and stretches of new line to deliver two objectives: big cuts in journey times between the big northern cities, from Liverpool in the west to Hull in the east, and also big improvements in capacity, so you can have much more regular trains as well as faster trains."

Analysis: Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent

It is widely acknowledged that poor transport is holding up growth across the north of England.

The roads across the Pennines haven't been widened since 1971. There are few fast trains an hour between Manchester and Sheffield.

There have been many, many reports over the years saying that transport in the north of England is underfunded and buckling under the strain.

Line them up end to end, they might just stretch across the Pennines.

The reality is, far more is spent on transport in the South than in the North - that is, per head, not total amounts.

And any dramatic improvements to trains over the Pennines would cost billions and take more than a decade to happen. There isn't even a proper plan yet.

'Slash journey times'

In its report, the NIC said the north of England needed "immediate and very significant investment" in transport.

"Leeds and Manchester are just 40 miles apart, but there is no quick and easy way to travel between the two," it said. "In rush-hour, it can take more than two hours by car; by train, it can be almost an hour.

"So we should kick-start HS3 across the Pennines and slash journey times to just 30 minutes. But we must not wait decades for change - journey times should be cut to 40 minutes by 2022."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Improvements to the M62 may cut Liverpool to Leeds journey times by a fifth

A plan should be drawn up by 2017, the report said.

Lord Adonis also said that improvements to the M62 should ensure that road journeys between Liverpool and Leeds would be cut by up to 20%.

Other recommendations include redeveloping Manchester Piccadilly train station and incorporating key parts of the north in the HS2 train network.

The NIC was set up by the government last year to advise on long-term projects to boost the economy.

A full blueprint for HS3 will be drawn up next year.

Steven Joseph, boss of pressure group Campaign for Better Transport said: "It's long overdue to have the investment on rail in the North.

"It's been starved of investment for years - it's had trains that even Iran has scrapped 10 years ago. It's now going to see proper investment if Lord Adonis' recommendations are properly followed through."

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