The proposed link could cut the journey time between the cities of�Leeds�and�Manchester�to as little as 26 minutes

Government backs east-west high speed rail link

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the government will back development of an east-west high speed rail link in northern England.

Dubbed High Speed 3 (HS3), the link was among options highlighted in a report on improving rail links across the Midlands and north of England published on Sunday by the chairman of Britain's north-south High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project.

The scheme could cost around £7bn and would cut the journey time between the cities of Leeds and Manchester to as little as 26 minutes, from an average of 55 minutes now.

"Improving connectivity and reducing journey times between our great northern cities is a crucial part of our long term economic plan for the north to boost businesses and create more jobs and security," Cameron said in a statement.

An interim report looking at the options, costs and a timetable for the east-west high-speed rail connection will be produced in March 2015, the government said.

HS2 Chairman David Higgins said reducing journey times between major cities was a "strategic necessity" for the future of the British economy that applied just as much to east-west links as to those between the north and London.

"Faster, more reliable, less congested services will make it easier for individual cities to pool the skills, talent and other elements they need to thrive ... Connectivity equals jobs," he said in his report 'Rebalancing Britain'.

Journeys between Leeds and Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield Meadowhall, York and Birmingham and Nottingham and Birmingham could also be reduced by a half or more, and many more journeys across the country substantially shortened.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme this morning, Sir David said his plans for HS3 were "a start of a conversation".

"This is not just a single project. It's more than the eye-catching journey-time reductions. HS3 will give northern England rail services twice the capacity and much more reliability," he said

The first phase of the £43bn HS2 project, between London and Birmingham, is due to open in 2026, with the second phase extension to Leeds and Manchester  currently due in 2033. Earlier this year Higgins recommended this second phase be built by 2027.

Higgins' report yesterday looked at whether there were alternatives to building this second phase of the HS2 route, such as upgrading existing lines, but said they did not offer the same level of capacity, connectivity or economic benefit.

Higgins said Britain should seek to learn lessons from how high-speed rail links have been built faster and for less money elsewhere in the world, learning from design and construction techniques.

In response, the government said it would launch a review which would draw on international experience to find ways to bring down the cost of both the second phase of HS2 and future high-speed rail projects in Britain.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander also welcomed the report, as did House of Commons Transport Committee chairman Louise Ellman.

She said: "HS2 is important strategic infrastructure but must be linked with improvements in the classic rail network to bring maximum benefit."

The Rail Delivery Group, representing Network Rail and rail operators, said the report "underlines how HS2 will become the backbone of Britain's growing railway", but Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said HS3 would be even more expensive per mile than HS2 and added that Sir David's report "showed that the original plans for HS2 weren't thought through properly".

"Changing the mess that is phase two doesn't change the fact that phase one is still a complete mess, as is the entire concept of HS2," Rukin added.

 

> Download the 'Rebalancing Britain' report here

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