Forget HS2 – HS3 is a much better idea

A few months ago I had to travel from Edinburgh to Liverpool for work. It was utterly miserable. That was partly down to the fact that the event I was attending didn’t go very well (for me, at least).

But the real problem was getting to and from the event. You can get to any of the major cities in the UK from London with no bother at all. It might take an hour longer than you would like, but the trains go all the time and, they are pretty fast, and – crucially – they are direct. Not so up north.

Edinburgh to Liverpool Central – a mere 175 miles as the crow flies – takes around four hours, and involves changing trains. Manchester to Leeds – which are about as far apart as London and Reading – is an hour. Liverpool to Leeds is two hours. And so on.

If you live in the north I suspect that you are as bemused as I am by HS2 and the idea that we all need to get to London faster than we already do (four hours from Edinburgh to London seems just fine to me). What we really want is to get to other northern cities without having to get off to wait on cold platforms, clutching our laptops and praying for no delays as we change trains (the last bit to Liverpool from Edinburgh is on a tiny local train).

So I was thrilled to see that someone in government has finally noticed that there is a problem here – George Osborne now says that he wants to improve transport links such that a northern hub that can rival the dominance of Greater London can be created. A nine-million person strong super-city encompassing Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.

An editorial in the FT today rather dismisses the idea. It accepts that the north needs better infrastructure and more growth, but claims that “it is far from clear how high speed rail will contribute to this”.

I can see the problems with it – short distances limit speed, and straightening lines is expensive. But it is very clear to me how having better trains between northern cities would help (if it actually happens – which I doubt).

It would cost a fortune, but it would also make travelling between cities less time-consuming, boring, and cold – something that might make us all travel between them more often.

  • GFL

    Now you know why the house prices in London are so expensive – everything is here (from a business perspective), all within very close proximity and very well connected.

    Yes the trade off is a smaller house – but it beats spending half my life on a train!

  • Angela

    That’s odd. The principal reason I gave up on London was precisely because of having to spend half my life on a commuter train.

  • GFL

    Indeed Angela, that is why (broadly speaking) prices rise almost exponentially as you get closer to the centre of London. If you live on the commuter belt, then I agree it can be annoying.

    But I believe this article was more focused on business – if you are a business man or women – you really want your customers and suppliers as close as possible, which London normally offers. I don’t see how cities 80 miles apart can attempt to replicate this model.

  • Longtermyieldman

    I share your view that HS3 is a good idea, and also that it may not happen.

    There is, however, a way of massively reducing that cost: revise HS2 so there’s just a single line from Birmingham to the North, rather than the two spurs currently proposed, to Manchester and Leeds, and put the savings toward HS3.

  • Angela

    Train travel in the North is still full of excitement and hardship. Will the last train run? Will I be stranded overnight halfway across the Pennines? Will the heating be on in the train in midwinter?
    Oh yes, we breed them tough in the North.

  • A fool

    I know they breed them tough in the North. Almost all my neighbours here in Surrey have moved down from there. The place must be practically empty

  • When I look at a map of the North it always seems well endowed with motorways. Is a new train going to be that much of an addition?

    The case for a train sounds good but when I look at a map of the North it seems to have quite a dense motorway system so would a new train service affect the North’s economy that much? I have to own up and say most of my life has been spent in Buckinghamshire with great ease getting to London.

  • Glenwyn

    Northern motorways! Maybe you need to stop looking at maps and come North to try the roads out. North of Newcastle there is not even dual carriageway all the way to Edinburgh (the nearest Capital city). The Road between York and Hull has the same problem. We need better roads, faster and more direct train routes between Northern cities and more international flights from the larger regional airports (especially direct flights to US and Far East). Then the North can become a counterbalance to London.

  • Page Green

    Having spent 80% of my life in the south and more recently 20% in the north it appears to be a zero sum game … it always seemed to take an age to get through queues of people / traffic congestion in the south, whereas the north is less congested but badly connected. Up side of the north is that you get to read more because the train journeys are so long.

  • NeutronWarp9

    HS3 is a problem of geography. Namely, the Pennines. The land between Manchester and Leeds is generally a combination of bleak moorland or an AONB. The former is decent in summer for a view of a few reservoirs and valleys but who wants to live or work there? The latter, untouchable.
    Sure, Manchester & Leeds should have a better rail connection but that isn’t High Speed 3 – more 21C (21st Century). Years of minimal investment have given much of the country dross trains and antiquated lines. Bus ‘technology’ (CCTV, easy-clean floor sills and fold-up seats?) isn’t any more impressive and this has resulted in much of the UK’s public transport being perceived as a means of travel for the desperado lower ranks and non-paying gramps & grannies. GR8