Current train journey times between major Midlands cities and Leeds could be slashed under “game-changer” proposals for part of the HS2 project.
Plans have been submitted to the Government and the independent HS2 review panel for changes to a key rail junction, halving travel times for Nottingham to Birmingham and Leicester to Leeds services.
The regional transport organisation, Midlands Connect, has said its proposals to alter the Toton East Midlands Hub station in Nottinghamshire, on the planned Leeds branch of HS2, could be less expensive than current thinking.
The business case, submitted to the Department for Transport (DfT) and the recently-announced review panel, is estimating the economic benefit to be at least £1.4 billion.
Sir John Peace, chairman of Midlands Connect, called the plans a “genuine game-changer” for regional rail connections, adding that it is “absolutely essential” to the economy that HS2 is delivered in its entirety.
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The plan would see hourly services operating between the new Birmingham Curzon Street station in the city centre and Nottingham, via the Toton hub, and also between Bedford, Leicester and Leeds.
As a result, the Nottingham to Birmingham journey time, currently 72 minutes, would be halved to 33 minutes, according to Midlands Connect.
Leeds to Leicester travel time would also fall, from two hours to 46 minutes.
The plans have the support of council leaders in Birmingham, Nottingham and Leeds, as well as Leicester’s mayor and business group the CBI.
Passengers would use the existing travel network to get to Toton, in Broxtowe, before changing to an HS2 train or vice-versa.
The proposal’s authors have said direct services would be made possible by using new conventional compatible trains which can travel on both the high-speed and electrified track.
The plans would see alterations to the Toton junction, sited between Nottingham and Derby, which itself is currently contained as part of Phase 2 of HS2.
More than half of the estimated economic benefit, coming from travel time saved and the boost to cities’ businesses through closer transport links, would come to the East Midlands, Midlands Connect said.
The DfT has asked HS2 Ltd, which is delivering the high-speed rail project, to look at the feasibility of the alternative junction.
The cost of implementing the services is estimated at £170 million, including the junction and upgrades to the line.
Securing the proposed Bedford-Leeds service would mean investing in electrification of the Midland Main Line, north of Market Harborough in Leicestershire.
For the Birmingham to Nottingham service, it would mean similar upgrading of the line, west of Nottingham.
Sir John said: “Now we have more clarity over the costs and timescales of HS2, is it time that the true benefits of high-speed rail are also fully understood to make sure the project goes ahead in its entirety.
“Our proposals are a genuine game-changer for connections between the East Midlands and West Midlands and on to the North of England, revolutionising the way regions do business with each other and demonstrating that HS2 will spread the economic benefits far beyond the
cities with a dedicated station.”
He added: “We are sending a strong message to the Government that delivering HS2 in its entirety is absolutely essential to the future economic success of the whole of the UK.”
CBI regional chairman Richard Butler said: “For too long connectivity within the Midlands has been beleaguered by congestion on roads and by slow and infrequent services by rail.
“Better connecting communities across the Midlands and to cities in the North will open up investment and employment opportunities, boosting local economies and people’s job prospects.
“Public transport needs to be convenient and accessible to all; enhancing existing HS2 plans to link more cities and towns will encourage more people to leave their cars at home – reducing congestion and the impact on the environment.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced an “independent and rigorous” Government review into HS2 on August 21, led by Douglas Oakervee.
It is set to report back by the autumn.