Forget HS2 - HS3 is a much better idea

There’s no real need for anyone to get to London faster than they already do. But high-speed rail in the north of England would make a lot of sense.

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.

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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.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.