High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents


Written evidence from Northumberland County Council (HSR 31)

BACKGROUND

The following points make the case for a "High Speed Rail Network" particularly the benefits for Northumberland, although it is appreciated that the Commons Transport Committee will also have to consider the wider implications for the Government's transport policy objectives.

The main case for high speed rail links to Northumberland is:

—  Reduced Journey times.

—  Increased rail capacity.

—  Increased economic development resulting from the first two points.

THE CASE FOR HIGH SPEED RAIL

Northumberland County Council sees the development of a high speed rail network as good news for the economic prosperity of the North East region and Northumberland. However the authority would to see the completion of the whole of the Government's proposed High Speed Network to reap the full benefits for Northumberland. This includes the proposed section to Leeds.

While journey reductions of over 30 minutes from London to Newcastle, and 40 minutes from Birmingham to Newcastle on the proposed High Speed Rail Network will help the economic competitiveness of the North East Region, equally important is the increase in rail capacity as the existing rail network becomes increasingly congested. Network Rail predicts an increase of more than 70% in long distance rail travel from 2007 to 2036 on the East Coast Main Line. If rail capacity to the North East Region is not increased during this period this could act as a deterrent to economic growth.

At the recent seminar hosted by Theresa Villers MP, Minister of State for Transport, in Newcastle on 24 March, it was clear that the Government is committed to the development of a high speed rail network. However, it appears that little work has been done so far on how the high speed line to Leeds would link into the existing East Coast Main Line and on to the North East region. It is vital that the more detailed technical aspects of the route are progressed, as this is will ultimately determine time savings from London to the North East, and also from the West Midlands.

The Government's proposed High Speed Network will run from London to Birmingham with branches off to Manchester and Leeds. It is important that the construction of the branch to Leeds is built at the same time as the one to Manchester. Any delay could put the North East Region including Northumberland at a disadvantage economically. There could also be a danger that through traffic from London to Edinburgh that presently travels via the East Coast Main Line through Newcastle and Northumberland could be diverted via Manchester and the West Coast Main Line. This would be a great loss to the region, and could deprive stations in Northumberland such as Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick of through services to London and Scotland. There would also be a danger that the line beyond Newcastle would become an essentially local route with limited inter-regional trains operating between Newcastle and Scotland. This could also increase costs for local trains still operating on the route, further threatening the loss of service to Northumberland stations.

As stated earlier, the High Speed Network would run as far as Leeds with speeds of around 225mph. Beyond that the trains would run along the East Coast Main line at 125mph to the North East and Scotland. In addition to the difference in speed, the new High Speed Network would be built to the UIC continental loading gauge. This would mean that trains serving the North East beyond Leeds would have to be built to the smaller British loading gauge. This would of course increase costs because two different designs of trains would be required for the respective loading gauges. This could discourage through trains from Continental Europe to the North East and could restrict the potential to provide more frequent trains from London to the region. The long term solution would be to extend the new High Speed Lines beyond Leeds to the North East, or at the very least investigate the potential for the East Coast Main Line to be upgraded to the UIC Continental Loading gauge.

The projected date of 2032 for high speed rail to arrive in the North East would appear to be slow by the standards of such projects in Europe. This could put the North East region at a disadvantage economically compared with other regions which may benefit earlier, the timescale for construction must be reduced. In addition there must be a long term aim to extend the High Speed Lines beyond Leeds to the North East Region for the reasons already outlined.

In relation to Northumberland, the arrival of high speed rail will of course bring great economic benefits to the County. These benefits will be greater if trains originating from the High Speed Network make some stops in Northumberland, as trains to and from London do at present at Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick.

CONCLUSION

Northumberland County supports the Government's plans for a "High Speed Rail Network" to support economic regeneration in Northumberland and the North East Region. The economic benefits of high speed rail have clearly been demonstrated in continental Europe. The upgrading of existing main lines to the north has clearly been demonstrated not to be a viable option, by the complexity, timescale and cost overruns on the recent West Coast Main Line modernisation.

The County Council would urge the Government to proceed with the construction of a High Speed Rail Network as soon as possible, and reduce the timescale for construction from the current completion date of 2032. In the longer term the County Council would like to see high speed rail extended beyond Leeds to York, Newcastle and Scotland to reap further benefits for the North East Region. Overall high speed rail would be a major boost to the economic prosperity in Northumberland and the North East Region.

May 2011


 
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Prepared 8 November 2011