WHEN last week’s consultation document about the shape of Britain’s proposed high-speed rail network was published, many in the city responded with disappointment that the new track would not run the whole way into Lime Street station.
Instead trains travelling between London and Liverpool will switch from high-speed rail to traditional, or “classic”, rail just south of Crewe.
In contrast, high speed track, known as HS2, will reach the city centres of Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham and the outskirts of Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby.
Train journeys between the capital and Liverpool will take almost 40 minutes longer than journeys between London and Manchester, putting Liverpool in the slow lane and representing a huge disadvantage when it comes to wooing inward investors.
Last week’s HS2 consultation document sets out the case for and against extending high speed tracks to Liverpool together with other options.
The Department for Transport (DfT) looked first at whether high speed track could be laid the whole way to Liverpool. However, the consultation document concludes: “To do so would be very disruptive to the existing railway. Our high-level work found it to be prohibitively expensive, owing to the number of bridges and other structures on the railways into Liverpool, so we did not progress it.
“We then looked at whether it would be possible to connect to the existing railways into Liverpool near Warrington, allowing classic compatible trains to run into Liverpool. This could allow a fastest London to Liverpool journey time of one hour 36 minutes. It could also allow Warrington to be served.
“Our demand model analysis saw an increase in passengers from Liverpool and a near doubling of passengers coming from Warrington, indicating the benefit of serving it by HS2. However, the level of benefit would only provide at best a marginal business case for a connection near Warrington because of the cost of the infrastructure to connect (between £390m and £690m).
“The sustainability impacts of a connection in that area would potentially be significant and would need further examination were it to progress.
“If a higher frequency of service could be achieved the benefits to Liverpool and Warrington would be greater, but this would be at the expense of other intermediate markets.”
These other intermediate markets include places like Crewe, Runcorn and North Wales.
The consultation document continues: “Although we started looking at how best to serve Liverpool, it became clear that these other markets are an important part of the picture in choosing where to connect to the existing classic network and what stopping patterns to run.
“We identified the potential to have a connection just south of Crewe. This could only be achieved if the route selected between West Midlands and Manchester were the western route via Crewe.
“This connection could offer a faster journey time to Liverpool than the Lichfield connection: around 1 hour 36 minutes from London to Liverpool. Importantly, it would also allow key markets, such as Crewe and Runcorn to be served, and we determined that the benefits of doing so would be even higher than those for a fast Liverpool service.”
The report concludes that the option of connecting to high speed track just south of Crewe is the most economically advantageous.
It adds: “The case for this is stronger than that for a connection further north near Warrington as the costs and sustainability impacts would be significant and intermediate markets could not be served by trains using such a connection. The loss of serving those markets would outweigh the incremental benefits to Liverpool and Warrington.”
However, many believe the fact that there will be a high speed link between London and the north of England will benefit the whole of the region, including Liverpool.
Geoffrey Piper, chairman of the North West Business Leadership Team, said the investment in high speed track will help narrow the North-South divide.