When HS2 was first announced Phase 1 would connect London with the West Midlands in 2026. Phase 2 to Manchester and Leeds would be completed in 2033. It was then announced in 2014 that the HS2 line to Crewe would be brought forward six years to 2027 as Phase 2a. Bringing many of the benefits of HS2 to the Northwest forward six years made good sense. It would have made good sense too to bring some of the benefits of HS2 to the East Midlands and Yorkshire in 2027. Although this can be done for a modest investment, HS2 Ltd has decided that Phase 2b to Leeds and beyond can wait until 2033.
A cost effective way to bring some benefits of HS2 to the East Midlands and Yorkshire in 2027 is the 'Whittington Link'. The link would branch off Phase 1 west of Whittington to join the Midland Main Line (MML) south east of Barton-under-Needwood. It will allow HS2 trains to travel at high speed from London to the outskirts of Derby, achieving larger journey time cuts for Derby and Sheffield in 2027 than Phase 2b will in 2033, but smaller reductions for Nottingham and Leeds. It should now be included in Phase 2a and completed in 2027 to provide earlier HS2 benefits to the East Midlands and Yorkshire, as is being done for the Northwest.
Below are shown the current journey times from London Euston to some eastern leg cities together with predicted journey times and journey time cuts for HS2 services using the Whittington Link 2027, or HS2 Phase 2b from 2033. Journey time cuts north of Sheffield are small using the link and require a Meadowhall to Leeds link via Normanton in 2033 for further improvements.
Current journey times Whittington Link in 2027 HS2 Phase 2b in 2033
Derby a) 90m 52m, a cut by 38m 72m, a cut by 18m
Toton b) N/A N/A 52m N/A
Nottingham 91m 80m, a cut by 11m 69m, a cut by 22m
Sheffield 121m 83m, a cut by 38m 85m, a cut by 36m
Leeds 131m 123m, a cut by 8m c) 81m, a cut by 50m
a) Change for Nottingham b) Change for Derby and Nottingham c) or 108m, a cut by 23m when the proposed HS2 line from Meadowhall to Leeds is completed 2033, see b below.
a. The Whittington Link
The western arm of the HS2 ‘Y’ runs north with Tamworth to the east and Lichfield to the west. Where HS2 crosses the Whittington Heath Golf Club the 13km long Whittington Link will branch off in a north easterly direction. North of the golf club the link could run between Hill Farm and Ellwood House, run east of Huddlesford Grange, Whittington Hurst Farm and Wetleyhay Wood, straddle the River Tame, run east of Broadfields and the crossing of the A513 with the MML, then run 400m east of the Wychnor Junction on the MML, joining that line near the railway maintenance depot south east of Barton-under-Needwood.
The existing MML line from Birmingham through Derby, Chesterfield and Sheffield would inherently have capacity for all new HS2 services since these would replace similar conventional services there. Between the Whittington Link and Derby the favourable alignment of the existing line lends itself to be upgraded for high speed HS2 use, and it should be electrified from Birmingham. Between Derby and Meadowhall, via Chesterfield and Sheffield, the line should be selectively upgraded for HS2 use, concentrating on speed improvements.
From 2033 HS2 Ltd intends to operate 23 trains per hour on the sector between the Water Orton delta junction and the Phase 2b turnout at Lea Moston. This means that this sector would need to be four-tracked. With the curtailed eastern arm of the HS2 'Y' proposed in b below, the sector between the Water Orton delta junction and the turnout for the Whittington Link would need to carry only 17 trains per hour, not 23, meaning this sector could be two-tracked (this assumes better economic benefits can be obtained upgrading the MML from Birmingham New Street than four tracking from Water Orton to the Whittington Link). 3 services not now included are 2 from Newcastle and 1 from York, all to London. These non-HS2 services would remain on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) until a second more easterly high speed line to London is built. 3 other services not now included are 2 from Leeds and 1 from Newcastle, all via Sheffield to Birmingham. These HS2 services would stay on the MML to Birmingham New Street, see section 2, not run via the Whittington Link or the Water Orton delta junction.
b. The Eastern Arm of the HS2 ‘Y’
If all HS2 services from and to London Euston would stop both at Old Oak Common and at Birmingham Interchange, or Birmingham Interchange was axed, and the service speed reduced, the ability of the southern core of the HS2 ‘Y’ to deliver 18 trains per hour may be possible. However, since Birmingham Interchange is not yet axed and some HS2 services are planned to stop there, and the service speed remains 360kph, it is unlikely that the southern core of the 'Y' will have the ability to deliver 18 train paths per hour.
Also, HS2 services from London to the Northwest and Scotland and/or services using the Whittington link to Leeds and beyond could prove popular. A demand for additional services could arise. There would be no capacity on the southern core for such a demand. A remedy could be to four-track the southern core, but a better solution would be to build a second more easterly high speed line to London (HS2c?) running east of Phase 2b in the north and of phase 1 further south. This second line could run south-east from Normanton, through or east of Nottingham and either via Leicester or Cambridge to London, to supplement the congested southern core of the HS2 ‘Y’.
It therefore seems sensible to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach before committing to the full eastern leg of the HS2 ‘Y’ as currently planned. Add the Whittington Link now to Phase 2a and upgrade existing rail infrastructure to match. This approach would benefit users of both HS2 and traditional rail services and may enable the HS2 project to remain within its budget.
In detail, for the area covered by the eastern arm of the HS2 ‘Y’ and the adjoining rail infrastructure, it is proposed to:
For more on Toton station see section 3 ‘Airport’ Stations and Interchanges here.
MAPS OF THE PROPOSALS
The maps above are from a HS2 publication: High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain's Future - Phase Two: The route to Leeds, Manchester and beyond
This section last revised and maps added 5 September 2019