High speed rail plans may end up slowing the North East down

The advent of high-speed rail could actually slow down services from the North East, it has emerged

How a train on HS2 could look as it speeds between London and Birmingham
How a train on HS2 could look as it speeds between London and Birmingham

High speed rail will slow down services from the North East to Scotland and reduce London journeys by just 11 minutes, the region is today warned.

A series of route documents have shown how the North will be increasingly isolated if the £42bn railway project is completed.

After a trickle of concerns at the plans for a new railway emerged over the last year, the final picture increasingly shows a high speed network in which Newcastle actually loses services.

Consultation documents put out by HS2 and Network Rail show:

  • From 2033, Newcastle’s direct trains to and from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow are replaced by a stopping service calling at small towns throughout the line, hugely adding to journey times;
  • All London to Scotland services will go up the West Coast;
  • High speed rail will replace, not add, to all existing East Coast London to Newcastle routes in order to free up capacity south of York;
  • Under High speed plans, Durham would lose out on direct links, while Darlington moves from two trains an hour to London to one train;
  • Total journey saving times to London when Durham’s Hitachi trains are built are just 11 minutes.

Under Government plans, the high speed railway will go from London to Birmingham, heading in a Y-shape to Leeds and Manchester by 2033. The fast trains then switch down to regular speeds and travel either to Newcastle or up the west coast to Scotland, with Newcastle now becoming simply the end of a branch line.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who sits on the House of Commons group overseeing the London to Birmingham high speed work, said he had warned his own party’s front bench team that something will have to change if the North East is not to lose out.

He told The Journal: “We have some of the worst rail connections already. As I have said to our front bench, the North East first of all needs to be recompensed for the disruption we will face as work goes on from York to London.

“But also, this new line will build economic powerhouses in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, while whatever happens in Scotland it is going to be given more economic powers.

“The North East risks being trapped in between these economic honeytraps, with slower connections to Scotland and losing some services to London. How will we sell ourselves to investors after High Speed 2?”

Other Labour MPs hitting out at the high speed plans include Durham’s Kevan Jones and Newcastle’s Nick Brown. They are at odds with Labour councils such as Newcastle and the Association of North East Councils, which have campaigned for new route despite the concerns.

Many of the damaging changes to North East services come as a result of a lack of investment in the East Coast Main Line north of York.

The four-lane line railway network changes to a two-lane line between Northallerton up to Newcastle. And with that system already leading to congestion on a one-in one-out basis, the new high speed route would only be able to replace, rather than add to, existing services.

In its consultation document, Network Rail admits that High Speed duplicates services up the East Coast, and as such, it wants to “reduce the quantum of long distance services,” axing long distance trains and replace them with slower, stopping services.

South of York there is increased extra capacity as all trains from Newcastle and Scotland are sent past Birmingham to Euston, with six trains an hour from the North moved off the existing system.

The system would mean there is an end to services from London to Edinburgh via Newcastle, documents show.

Instead a new stopping services would start at Newcastle and call at Cramlington, Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick, Dunbar, Drem, Prestonpans and Edinburgh Waverley.

And the same capacity constraints that force all these changes mean that from 2019, transport officials have decided the only way to increase services on the Transpennine service is to reduce one train an hour on the Birmingham via Leeds Cross Country routes.

 
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