A radical alternative to the controversial HS2 high-speed rail project is being backed by business leaders in Huddersfield.
A major report arguing that the £56bn HS2 scheme is “not fit for purpose” as a national transport project is being supported by the Lockwood-based Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.
The highly-detailed report criticises the proposed route of HS2, arguing that it fails to provide connectivity with the wider rail network.
Instead, the report calls for a “spinal” north-south high-speed route to run alongside the M1 and connect to 10 major cities and 20 “secondary” towns and cities, including Huddersfield – as well as the existing east and west coast main lines – through investment to upgrade existing tracks and reopen abandoned routes.
Among proposals for the alternative scheme, dubbed HSUK, the report argues for the re-opening of the Woodhead route to connect Sheffield – which would be on the route of its proposed high-speed route – and Manchester.
It also seeks the re-opening of the Spen Valley route linking Dewsbury and Bradford to bring Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike and Liversedge back onto the trans-Pennine link and the return of the Huddersfield-Penistone line to double track.
Instead of an additional station for Leeds, the report argues for Leeds City station to be upgraded for high-speed rail – avoiding passengers having to walk from one station to another – and for a similar upgrade at Manchester Piccadilly.
Report author Colin Elliff – a Yorkshire-based civil engineer with 30 years experience of work in rail – said: “HS2 only makes sense if you take the view that London is the only destination worth going to. HS2 only addresses the needs of the primary cities when the whole railway network is capable of major improvement.”
Chamber head of policy Steven Leigh said that while the UK needed faster rail services, the argument over HS2 has been debased into one of a simple “yes” or “no” when it should be about the best way to improve the whole rail network.
He said: “No-one would build a motorway with no junctions – yet that is what HS2 is doing. It proposes an arrow-straight line to enable trains to travel at 250mph – the fastest in the world – in one of the smallest countries in the world while leaving whole sections of the country untouched.”
The report argues that HSUK could be delivered for ï¿½42bn by building the line alongside the M1 instead of the HS2 route, which would require many miles of costly tunnelling to placate angry residents in the Chilterns and preserve the natural landscape.
While HSUK would not achieve 250mph travel, it would achieve a 40% reduction in journey times overall through better connections with centres of population that would have no direct link to the high-speed line under HS2.
The report said HSUK would provide better value for money, do less damage to the landscape, minimise disruption to communities and cut CO2 emissions as rail travel became quicker and better able to compete with the car.
The chamber plans to make the case for HSUK at a major conference to be held on Friday, November 15, at Huddersfield University.