East-west fast connectivity first

HS2 Plan B is a full-scheme alternative to HS2. Its first aim is to help lessen the tilt of the UK economy towards London and its construction would start North-first.

Stage One of Plan B would be a forty mile fast link between Manchester and Leeds, halving the rail time between the two cities and opening up a:
Northern Cities Crossrail to take half an hour out of rail times between the key centres of Lancashire to the west and those of Yorkshire to the east: an urban economic zone half as big again as Birmingham.
HS2 misses this opportunity.

Plan B construction would continue in stages; south towards London St Pancras via Sheffield Meadowhall and East Midlands Airport and north via Bradford, Leeds-Bradford Airport and Harrogate towards Tees-side and Newcastle.

Plan B’s Midlands Crossrail, the scheme’s fast connector from Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Coventry, would join the north-south main line by Jn.19 of the M1.

The first trains on Plan B would be successors to the 140mph blue commuters running on HS1: see header photo. These would be able to terminate at St Pancras International or continue via St Pancras Thameslink to central London interchanges: with the London Crossrail at Farringdon and with the Southern network and Gatwick lines at Blackfriars.

The Plan B main line is shown in heavy red on the map. It follows existing rail and motorway corridors where possible. Existing main routes where Plan B trains could continue beyond the major stations are shown in thin red.


The line for the North-South Divide, from the Severn Estuary to The Wash, was calculated by Prof Dorling and colleagues in 2010: See The Economic Geography of the UK: www.sagepublications.com

Plan B and the North South Divide: HS2 Plan B aims to deliver its northern benefits North-first, not London-first and North much later; and to anchor railway engineering, civil engineering, rock-tunnel (Stages One and Two), power supply, steel-making, signalling system and train making skills and jobs well to the north of the North South Divide.

Plan B journey times are based on those of the Class 395 high speed commuter sets running between St Pancras and Ashford in Kent. More recent, faster versions of this type of electric train are in use elsewhere in the EU. The Plan B main line curvatures have been drafted to suit these.
Click: Miles and Mins.
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Class_395 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICE_3#Class_406

Centre-to-Centre fast connectivity: The Plan B main line would have connector chords to the town centre stations at Huddersfield, Wakefield, Sheffield, Rotherham, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Loughborough. It has options for rail/rail interchanges at M1 Jn.13 (Milton Keynes East) at M1 Jn.37 (Barnsley West), at Mirfield (Huddersfield-Halifax-Dewsbury), at Rochdale and with the West Coast Main Line at Coventry NE.

Wider connectivity: As Class 395s can use overhead or side rail power and join local rail lines from high speed track, Plan B trains would be able to run on west of Manchester Victoria to Liverpool, Southport, etc and east of Leeds and west of Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
Connectivity south of the Thames: The Class 395 trains on HS1 operate north and south of the Thames between London St Pancras and towns in North Kent. They would be able to use via the Thameslink route to operate as far south as Croydon, Gatwick and Brighton.
Airport connectivity: Plan B would include a main line station, with connector chords to the adjoining cities, at two international airports: East Midlands and Leeds-Bradford. The aim is to make them bigger drivers of development and jobs in their city regions.

HS62 on the plan would be the high speed Crossrail between Manchester Victoria and Leeds. It would track the M62 Motorway east from Rochdale through the Pennine Moors.  It would involve rock-tunnel and surface sections between Rochdale and Halifax, with scope for commuter stops at Rochdale and at Jn.24 of the M62 for Halifax-Huddersfield. HS21 on the map would be the scheme’s main line, extending further north and south.

The Plan B’s main line north would extend from Bradford Central (a new station to replace the current two) to Leeds-Bradford Airport and on, via Harrogate-Knaresbrough towards Tees-side and Newcastle. But Bradford is only half-way between London and Edinburgh. If the revenue projections north of Harrogate are thin, an interim connection to the East Coast Main Line would be more than likely.

West Coast Main Line (WCML): In the period before Plan B was built, the quickest improvement to seat capacity on the WCML’s Euston-Birmingham-Manchester Piccadilly route would be to change one car in each 9 car set to Standard Class from First Class.

Medium term capacity shortfalls on the WCML would be eased by track, station platform (but not all WCML station platforms) and signalling upgrades; later by introducing 12 car trains instead of the current 9 car sets.
See Chris Stokes in ‘Quotes’.

Canary Wharf fast-connector: HS2 Plan B includes a Thames tunnel with rail-rail interchanges at Lewisham, Canary Wharf and Stratford. It would relieve Southern commuter congestion at and approaching London Bridge station and overcrowding on the Jubilee Line between London Bridge and jobs at Canary Wharf; and (in prospect) at Stratford’s Olympic Legacy Park.
Similarly, the new route would bring commuters to Canary Wharf direct from the Lea Valley, Harlow, Bishops Stortford, Stansted and Cambridge.

The idea for a direct Gatwick-Lewisham-Canary Wharf-Stratford-Stansted link first appeared in the BML2 project. See: http://www.bml2.co.uk/

So, what’s wrong with HS2′s London-to-Birmingham start?
London is the UK’s great economic powerhouse. It has four international airports. Its commuter arteries fan out across the south of England to access a catchment population and spending power twice that of Birmingham and Manchester put together.

If HS2 is launched South-first it will give London a big new economic artery and bring Birmingham to within an hour’s commute of London’s vastly bigger business sector. London would grow into an even bigger business draw than it is now. Birmingham and cities further north of the North South Divide would lose more ground and the chance to change the shape of the UK economy and give the North a one-off (but lasting) boost from fast connectivity first will be lost.

See Lord Digby Jones in ‘Quotes’.

The NorthStart scheme map was updated with the Plan B route on 17 September 2013. The Stratford-Canary Wharf-Lewisham tunnel route was added 3 July 2013. Further updates to map and text 24 September 2013.

Detailed maps to follow:

  • Layout option for Leeds-Bradford Airport’s first rail connectors.

35 thoughts on “East-west fast connectivity first

  1. Not convinced the Lee Valley has the capacity. There’s already fairly firm plans to put in a congestion relief third track north of Tottenham Hale- possibly to Brimsdown- whilst proposals for Crossrail 2 may see it rebuilt as four-track from just south of Tottenham Hale to Broxbourne. It is a seriously congested line already, forecast to get much busier (especially if Crossrail 2 happens- though this at least would take pressure off Liverpool Street).

    At Stratford, the Lee Valley platforms are currently quite short- only eight carriages worth. Extension would have to be out and over the HS1 station box.

    North Start/HS2: Plan B is not a bad idea- but perhaps approaching London on the existing route, with the connection to London still being in via Old Oak Common to Euston.

    • Thanks for commenting.
      If the BML2 scheme’s Lewisham-Canary Wharf-Stratford-Stansted route went ahead I would expect the Crossrail 2 and route-rebuild etc options to respond to it, not the other way round.
      The scheme’s route options from Stansted Airport to Stratford could mean a tight squeeze at points along the Lea Valley route, despite inter-operability.
      You are right about the Lea Valley line’s platform lengths (and widths) at Stratford. Whether that means an at-grade or a high-level station within the Stratford LOD, or one out on the Legacy lands, I don’t know.

      • I Like this idea. You have my backing HS northstart. There would be a small change, that is, I would still use Birmingham Curzon Street and link Wolverhampton via BUSHBURY with two railway stations in Wolverhampton: one railway station at Bushbury Fordhouse Road and rebuild Wolverhampton railway station in the City Centre. It is just an idea
        from Peter Jarai from Bushbury, Fordhouse road

  2. Isn’t there already a plan for a completely new line from London to Stansted Airport? Stratford offers a much better connection to HS1 than Euston.

    • Seems the plan is an architects’ idea for a Heathrow-Stansted ‘dual hub’ with a Crossrail extension from Stratford to Stansted. See FT of 28.10.2012 and RTM of 23.11.2012.

  3. Michael Bell comment:
    “My own ideas (www.beaverbell.co.uk) have some similarities to your NorthStart scheme, based on linking the four cities of the North with a high speed ring and more able to create wealth and grow the Northern economy. There is an easy analogy, the Dutch “Randstad”: the circle of cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. It has no “centre”, but is still made one place by its transport links. Taken as a whole it is the chief city of the Netherlands. With the speeds which HS2 plan for, you would be able to go anywhere in a rail-linked ring of Northern cities, do something useful and get back in an afternoon. A working, personal or business relationship can be built up when the parties are so near. That makes it a single city. I’ve called the Northern ring city “Ringby”.

    The official reason for building HS2 is to increase capacity on the London-Birmingham leg, and “to spread London’s wealth to the North”, working on the theory that faster journey times to London increase a town’s wealth. If that were true, Birmingham would be wealthier than Manchester which would be wealthier than Leeds, which would be wealthier than Newcastle. But official statistics show that that is not so, it is a mixture of self-deception and cynical misleading – “this will solve the north’s problems” – but the Y-shaped route and its likely extension to Scotland won’t. It has no clothes.”

    • Thanks Michael.
      We appear to be saying the same sort of thing: that a straight-line dash from Euston to Birmingham would grow London rather than Brum.

      To lessen the economic tilt towards London, the HS2: Plan B scheme sets up two critical-mass centres beyond the North South Divide, more able to grow beyond the huge gravitational pull of the London region. Your Ringby scheme sets up a combined one.

      I confirm that HS2: Plan B does not have a route section crossing Cheshire into Manchester Piccadilly. Instead, it starts with a direct Manchester Victoria to Leeds fast crossrail and connects this south, removing the need for a route into Manchester Piccadilly. As a result, its traffic would originate from the north side of central Manchester, from the east-side and south Thames catchment of London St Pancras and, of course, from West Yorks. With the connection of Birmingham to the route, I see this un-loading the capacity pressures on the WCML, especially between Euston and Birmingham .

      Alas, there is still front bench consensus that HS2 (like Concorde) is the Right Thing to do; ditto starting with London-Birmingham.

  4. Your scheme appears to complement BML2′s project to relieve the over-busy Brighton Main Line to London Bridge.
    BML2 proposes a second main line from Brighton, using under-used routes and restored track, to join the routes into London Bridge at Lewisham:
    But if there was also a rail tunnel from Lewisham to Canary Wharf and Stratford it would relieve these routes still further as well as the Jubilee Line east to Canary Wharf.
    As BML2 can also connect Gatwick to Lewisham, there is scope for a fast Gatwick-CW-Stratford-Stansted link.
    I’d be interested to have your views on this.
    Brian Hart, Project Manager BML2

    • Thanks Brian,
      A main line rail tunnel between Ladywell and Stratford, with interchange stations at Lewisham and Canary Wharf, would offer some valuable benefits. It would save Kent and Sussex commuters to Canary Wharf two sides of their twice-daily travel triangle via London Bridge, taking the twice-daily pressure off the Jubilee Line, too. Herts, Essex and Cambridge commuters could continue south to Canary Wharf direct without having to interchange at Stratford. More people could access Gatwick, London Crossrail and Stansted by rail. And the tunnel might perhaps be the first Thames crossing for Channel Tunnel container trains east of Putney. I’ve added it to HS2: Plan B with credits to BML2.

  5. Michael
    A very interesting proposal
    I have a few questions:-
    1) Are you proposing Manchester Victoria as the northern terminus or continuing the line to Liverpool ?
    2) Are you proposing Telford as the “midlands” terminus, or could the line continue to Holyhead ?
    2) Is this a passenger only railway, or would freight use it (maybe at night) ?
    3) Are you proposing UK loading gauge (I assume W12) or Continental loading gauge (UIC-C) ?
    many thanks

    • Thanks Richie
      London St Pancras would be the scheme’s only buffers-stop station.
      1. At Manchester Victoria, some London trains (Class 395-type) would continue to wherever in Lancashire or beyond made sense to Network Rail and the TOCs. But Man Vic would also see new traffic from the same territory continuing, via Rochdale, to West Yorkshire or beyond. The two streams of traffic would make Man Vic a much bigger interchange than it is now.

      Work for the Northern Way found that a 20 minute improvement in rail journey time on the trans-Pennine corridor between Leeds and Manchester would result in a GVA uplift of £6.7bn across the North of which just £2.7bn is captured in the two city regions.

      2. Similarly, some London trains would be able to continue west from Curzon Street to beyond Wolverhampton.

      3. The issue with container trains is that the faster ones would still use up passenger paths in twos and threes during the day and the slower ones might chew track up at night. The Pennine crossing could, nevertheless, improve cross-Pennine freight times a lot and, looking south, the BML-2 passenger route from Stratford to Lewisham via Canary Wharf could be used to greatly shorten the route for freight crossing London to and from the Channel Tunnel.

      4. The routes I have proposed are mainly to 6.0km minimum radius except through St Albans, so the eventual use of higher speed sets is possible. It would be daft not to build the railway clearances to allow for this.

    • Sorry to have been so slow replying, I couldn’t work out how to use this blogging system.
      1) I am proposing to use Manchester, Victoria but not as a terminus. Only 2 platforms in the roofspace of Victoria will be required for a straight-through station. It would be easy enough to continue the line to Liverpool via Warrington or Newton le Willows, but what I have actually drawn in my map http://thornshapedroute.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/9/0/10902760/28_altricham__sale.jpg is that the route from Birmingham comes into Manchester via Altrincham.
      continuing through Manchester see http://thornshapedroute.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/9/0/10902760/29_manchester_centre.jpg
      and following the M62 “over the top”, see

      See http://www.beaverbell.co.uk for discussion.
      3) It stretches the imagination to think of HS2 running bi-modes from Holyhead into London on the High-Speed lines. For those nervous, or with children or baggage or who want to sleep, “direct” services, we might run 3 or 4 trains a day on the classic routes, for the rest it will be interchange. Whether interchange will be at Crewe, Stoke or Manchester doesn’t matter. Classic route will have to be extended eastwards to meet the new route.

      2) HS2 seem to have given up the idea of UK loading gauge, I always thought it was a bad idea. I propose Channel tunnel shuttle – size trains, seating 3+3 on two decks. I propose that the seats can be motored out of the way and pallets of cargo put in their place as in some aircraft at off-peak periods.

  6. This is a much much better solution, and it includes Bradford for once. Nothing else does.Stuff Leeds, they already have everything they need.Bradford is over two thirds the size of Leeds and doesn’t have a station fit for a city. Its more like a Bus Stop. This proposal would share the load between the two cities. Also would benefit us up north as its supposed to do.

  7. Can you tell me if the link between meadowhall and Leeds is on the same route as HS1,
    If it is?
    Then this is still a poor route?
    It needs to go into Sheffield! And exit northbound on the old Oughtibridge/wood head pass route into Manchester.

    • No to Q1. The northbound Plan B line stays on the west side of the M1 until past Barnsley, then tracks the existing rail corridor round to the M62 corridor. That way, the travel time between the centres of Manchester and Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield gets halved. HS2 will not do this.

      The chord into Sheffield gives the city centre its most direct connection from the main north-south line.

  8. As someone who supports High Speed Rail, I am not sure of the benefits of this scheme over HS2 proposed. People proposing alternatives get branded as objectors and that could count against getting anything. The one thing I would change about it is to deliver it earlier; by 2032 something may have happened that makes the whole thing outdated.

  9. If the object of the exercise is solely to address the north-south divide, the priority should be a new, fast, high-capacity trans-Pennine link connecting Liverpool and Manchester to Yorkshire, and via there to the North-East and the East Midlands.
    The most cost-effective way to do this will be via Woodhead, not the M62 corridor. One of its great advantages is the already-existing formerly four-track Great Central Route into Manchester Piccadilly.

    • Maybe the best plan would be to reopen the whole of the Great Central, and dig a tunnel from Marylebone to St Pancras. Though (as a Cambridgeshire resident) I like the idea of coming down via Stansted into Stratford — handier for Boris Island too.

    • Plan B trains Miles and Mins west of Manchester Victoria would look like:

      Man Vic to Liverpool: 35 miles in 30 mins (less after a track upgrade)
      Man Vic to Leeds: 40 miles in 30 mins (30 miles all-new track)
      Liverpool to Leeds: 76 miles in 60 mins (via Man Vic)

      So, Plan B via Man Vic could halve the current Liverpool-Leeds time via Man Picc.

      But, WCML would still be the shorter, faster route from London to Liverpool:

      London to L’pool: 245 miles in 155 mins via Plan B
      London to L’pool: 194 miles in 128 mins via WCML

      • So Man to London is 8 minutes faster than Liverpool. The problem with HS2 was that Liverpool is at a clear economic disadvantage to Manchester (KPMG report), this evens it up a little. The WCML can be diverted onto London’s Crossrail at Willesden. This would improve matters for the Liverpool and Chester trains accessing Central London and beyond.

        Also, how can Liverpool have trains directly to the Continent? Only High-speed trains will give that and the WCML will not run them. They only reach 100mph on classic tracks. Virgin have pushed for tilting high-speed trains but to deaf ears. Then these can use then WCML at 140mph using in-cab signalling and run onto the Continent

        Liverpool needs a “direct” express route to Leeds by-passing a Man Vic stop to improve times and link these economic regions. A high-speed line from Liverpool to Hull is desperately needed to link up all the economic regions along its route – and it should be built first.

      • The website map is due for an update to show HS2 Plan B’s main run-through routes east of Leeds and West of Manchester Victoria. These would open a fast-connector route, a Northern Cities Crossrail, from Liverpool (and to Bolton, Preston, Blackpool, Wigan, Southport and St Helens) to Hull (and to York, Selby, Malton, Goole and Scarborough) and, with Plan B Stage Two, north via Bradford, Leeds-Bradford Airport and Harrogate to the Tees and Tyne.

        Work for the Northern Way pre-2011 found that a 20 minute improvement in rail journey time on the trans-Pennine corridor between Leeds and Manchester would result in a GVA uplift of £6.7bn across the North of which just £2.7bn is captured in the two city regions. I agree that it should be built first. HS2 cannot do this. Plan B could.

        As to trains direct to the continent, Plan B’s cross-platform interchange with Eurostar services at St Pancras offers international access to and from all Plan B destinations.

      • Continent to anywhere beyond London won’t work unless UK Border Agency co-operate. When Eurostar tried Sheffield to Brussels they were allowed to carry passengers between Brussels and Lille but not between Sheffield and London, so the trains would be half-empty for that part of the journey, which is what makes it uneconomic.

  10. Looking at your map yet again you show manchester as a massive city compaird with other city. Please take Bolton and Rochdale and all other town away from the map of manchester. And see how small manchester Is to liverpool and Leeds

    • Well, if you followed the same logic in the south east England, you could take the London boroughs away from London’s massive urban area and argue that London is not at all big.

  11. I like this idea a lot. Was just wondering if this could encompass a spur to Heathrow (maybe via Old Oak Common) and also what speed (i.e. how many miles per hour) these trains would run at? Is it the same 250 mph of HS2 or that of HS1?

    • I’d favour being really bold, and going Stansted – Stratford – Boris Island.

      HS2 is likely to run at 300 kph (same as HS1) or maybe 320 kph when it opens. The’re worried about the effect of Rayleigh waves at higher speeds, and want to give the track a chance to bed in before trying them.

    • Thanks, Jacob. HS2 Plan B’s first trains would be inter-operable successors to the 150mph Class 395s now running on HS1 between St Pancras and the big North and East Kent commuter towns. They would reach 150-170mph on Plan B’s north-south main line, branching off from the main line station stops to join the east-west regional lines east and west of them.

      The line has been drafted to 4.5km radius or better, so uber-speed trains could operate on it if they made platform-fit, capacity and return on cost etc sense.

      I’ve not tried to add a spur to Heathrow. For the minority of arrivals at St Pancras who would want Heathrow access, a proportion of Plan B trains would continue south via the Thameslink platforms to interchange onto the westbound London Crossrail at Farringdon and its promised spur into Heathrow: http://www.crossrail.co.uk/route/surface/western-section/.

      Or, passengers could continue south to Gatwick without changing.

      • Thank you for your response Michael. Even though this plan does not go at super speed like the HS2 the government has proposed I actually think it is better if the real aim is to provide cities with better connectivity and increased capacity on rail.

        I don’t think I made my question on a spur to Heathrow clear as having trains running through Farringdon and onto Heathrow is essentially the type of direct spur I was alluding too, although there is still the problem of an over centralised London (perhaps this is unavoidable).

  12. If you take a “north south” divide the west midlands is in the “north” but the east midlands is in the “south”. Yet you seem hell bent on connecting the east midlands in preference to the west midlands. totally contrary to your stated aims , or do they only count when it suits you?

    • On the map, the line of the North South Divide (produced by Prof. Danny Dorling and Sheffield U colleagues) shows the West Midlands and Coventry to the north of the Divide, ditto Derby and Nottingham, but not Leicester.

      This website’s fourth paragraph, above, says Plan B’s Midlands Crossrail, its fast connector from Birmingham and Coventry, would join the scheme’s north-south main line by Jn.19 of the M1. And, a bit later, it says Plan B trains would be able to run on west of Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

      The aim of Plan B in the West Midlands is to keep Birmingham from becoming a satellite of the London super-economy. Plan B’s Midlands Crossrail and spurs off would instead concentrate the Birmingham city centre economy, its groupings of creative and technology SMEs, centres of research and extend its rail commuter access. Its the sort of critical mass, seen by BBC2′s recent ‘Mind The Gap’ two-parter, with Evan Davies reporting, as essential if a UK region is to compete with London’s world-city attractions to the south and with the wider world. Plan B has the same aim, for the same reason, for the three East Midlands cities, with East Midlands Airport as the regional economic driver.

      Here’s the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03y3y8k

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