Prospects for Direct Trains from Manchester to Paris with the postponed link between HS1 and HS2 in the Higgins Review

This week has seen some important statements about the proposed linkage between HS1 and HS2 linkage being scrapped, or at least postponed. I have been writing about a possible direct service between Manchester and Paris since 2007, and I consider the planned link to be important. However, we need to remind ourselves that we already have a link between HS1 and the West Coast Main Line.

I can understand why the Higgins review took the decision on removing the link from the first phase of the construction of HS2, and I would suggest the main factors are:

1. To maintain cross-party support for HS2 by removing a £700m element. This removal shows that fears about cost overruns are being taken seriously. The “no blank cheques” statement by the Labour Party was in fact a relief after a few worrying weeks where it looked like support for HS2 might be given up entirely as a public statement of strong future control of finances.

2. To extend the first phase of construction to Crewe. This is a massive reassurance to the north of England that the first phase of HS2 will not just be used to connect the Midlands to London and then stop. The worry is that any government will keep putting off starting the second leg to the north of Birmingham. The great logic of Crewe is that it isn’t too big a step nor too large a project to finish the lines to the north.

3. To reassure communities living around Euston that large-scale housing demolitions were not going to happen. While the impact of HS2 in rural areas receives a lot of coverage, the bulk of the housing upheaval actually could happen within London. The new track layout in and around Euston station is still unsettled, so discussions of a link to nearby St Pancras are premature. Crucially, it depends on two decisions: how much expensive tunnelling is done, and to what extent Euston becomes an East-West through-station rather than remaining only a North-South terminus.

So, while the removal of the link from the first phase of construction is symbolically disappointing, it is also understandable. It is not a show-stopper in terms of direct trains from Manchester through the Channel Tunnel to the continent of Europe. The published business case describes how such services could run now.

And extra time should allow for a better designed link. As Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, told Construction News (26 March 2014), “trying to get these high-speed trains to dicker over the existing tracks in north London and then join up with HS1 wasn’t the right way forward. HS1 and HS2 need to be joined in a tunnel and that will eventually happen. David [Higgins] was right to say that in the first phase, don’t do the HS1/2 link as it’s currently on the table, because there’s no point. It’s bad news for transport in London and it’s not the right scheme.”

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