He escaped with little fanfare on a day that could be called “good news for bad news”. The government has quietly canceled the Golborne Link – a short section of the HS2 project which would have linked the high-speed road to the existing West Coast Main Line.
The seemingly inconsequential cancellation of an ‘add-on’ for HS2 – barely on the scale of the eastern leg to Sheffield and Leeds – proved to be anything but inconsequential. The news was met with a storm of protest. Even those for whom cancellation means their homes won’t be demolished called it a pyrrhic victory, paid for in ten years of stress and disrupted lives.
Link features in important government documents
The Golborne Link, which was to be the most controversial and contested part of the HS2 project, would have branched off from the HS2 Manchester deal near Knutsford, Cheshire, to join the West Coast Main Line (WCML) near Golborne, just south of Wigan. Construction was due to start in the early 2030s and it was due to open in the late 2030s or early 2040s as part of the second stage of HS2 services to Scotland.
However, with the pivot moving away from the focus on the high-speed nature of the project and redefining HS2 as a capability improvement for the century, the removal of a direct link to WCML was met with unmitigated rage. The link has left the rail industry, and business interests in general, furious at the abandonment. It was pointed out that the link was only a few months ago a keystone of the HS2 project and part of the integrated rail plan, a document heralded as a new dawn for rail connectivity and crucial for the economic program of “leveling up the top” of the government. .
Common voice of anger
A concerted response from the rail industry’s most prominent representative bodies condemned the move. Speaking together, the Rail Freight Group, the Railway Industry Association and the High Speed Rail Group (representing a wider range of stakeholders) issued a joint statement, condemning yet another U-turn by the government in London. They say six months ago the Golborne Link was included in the Integrated Rail Plan, as well as the HS2 Phase 2b bill. “The link has been budgeted for for HS2 and is necessary to allow adequate capacity on the national rail network to perform its vital function of handling domestic passenger and freight movements over longer distances,” their statement said. .
In purely budgetary terms, the 3 billion pound (3.5 billion euro) price of the link represents around 3% of the total cost of the HS2 – according to current estimates. It is obvious that the cancellation is only motivated by a growing deficit in the British Treasury. “Without this connection, a bottleneck will be created north of Crewe on the West Coast Main Line, which in turn will negatively impact decarbonisation and leveling outcomes,” the joint statement said. Of the industry.
Scotland and Carlisle left in doubt
It is no surprise that Scottish interests feel cynically betrayed. Operationally, services to central Scotland may well still have to use WCML, at the risk of reducing freight growth on this route. West Coast traffic is a central part of the Scottish Government’s planning for rail freight and economic growth. Just across the border, plans were underway for HS2 trains to run – via the link – to Carlisle, a few miles on the English side. The regeneration ambitions of this city include a massive development of the main station to serve HS2 trains to Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are concerns about the future of these plans. “Such an important and strategic question about how HS2 services connect to Scotland cannot be left open or uncertain,” the rail industry’s joint statement said.
The only murmur of approval was in Cheshire, the moderately well-to-do county through which the Golborne Link is said to have passed. Business and home owners, who have faced years of uncertainty and who have already had their premises and homes purchased to facilitate the project, breathed sighs of relief. There were few celebrations.
Citing a third document that takes notice of the Golborne Link, government sources defended the move. “Ahead of the Government’s response to the Union Connectivity Review, we can confirm that the Government will again consider alternatives which offer similar benefits to Scotland as the Golborne Link,” said Andrew Stevenson MP, Minister of State at the Ministry of Transport with responsibility for HS2.
“As long as these deliver for the taxpayer within the £96 billion [112 billion euro] allocated to the integrated rail plan, we will examine the possibility of alternatives bringing benefits earlier, improving Scottish services from Manchester and Manchester Airport, as well as from Birmingham and London. HS2 trains will continue to serve Wigan and Preston, as well as Lancaster, Cumbria and Scotland,” he said.
This article first appeared on RailFreight.com. Sister publication of RailTech.com.