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HS2 - what next?

14 November 2023

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK has published a 10-point plan as a result of the cancellation of HS2.

CILT HAS assessed the implications of the HS2 decision, and remains deeply disappointed at the cancellation of HS2 north of Birmingham.

“We believe this will do considerable harm to the economies of the North and Scotland. Instead of investing in the UK’s major infrastructure scheme, a third of the money is to be spent on populist short-term tactical measures which will do nothing to address the nation’s strategic infrastructure needs,” Julian Worth FCILT, spokesperson for CILT Strategic Rail Policy Group says.


We must establish what went so badly wrong with HS2 and learn the lessons. Our recommendation is that a well-informed independent inquiry should be set up, led by the individuals who delivered HS1 on time and under budget, supported by seasoned rail professionals.


Demand for transport will grow in the future as the economy recovers and expands. More capacity will be needed on the main north-south routes. At the same time, we need to decarbonise long distance transport to meet climate change imperatives and our legal obligation of Net Zero 2050. Countries across the world are investing in high-speed rail to provide sustainable inter-urban transport capacity and it is not plausible that the rest of the world is going in the wrong direction. We thus recommend in the strongest possible terms that the alignment of HS2 Phase 2 be protected against future needs and not abandoned as Government proposes.


Without HS2 Phase 2, the West Coast Main Line (WCML) north of Lichfield will, as it stands, be dysfunctional and cannot provide the much-needed connectivity improvements for the North, Wales and Scotland. There are several thromboses on this key artery which, if not removed, will do considerable economic damage to the regions and nations, and to UK plc overall.


Most urgent is the major bottleneck between Colwich and Stafford, which will have a highly damaging impact on High Speed trains to Manchester, Liverpool, Scotland and North Wales, as well as regional passenger services and freight. The WCML is the UK’s main freight artery and is critical to the supply chains of many businesses in the North and Scotland.


We recommend an urgent review of options to resolve WCML constraints, Colwich-Stafford in particular. These appear to be: 

a. Grade separation of junctions at Colwich and south of Stafford plus 4-tracking between these two points, tunnelling under the grounds of Shugborough Hall and running across the flood plain of the Rivers Trent and Sow. 

b. A Stafford by-pass, from Colwich to Norton Bridge on WCML north of Stafford, potentially using part of the HS2 Phase 2a alignment. 

c. Complete Phase 2a to Crewe, which has Royal Assent and is already well developed. Previous studies have indicated Options a. and b. were significantly inferior to Option c.


The remainder of the £36bn released from HS2 should be spent on infrastructure investment for the long-term benefit of the UK economy and environment. It should not be spent on short-term revenue items which, while welcome, will do nothing to address the nation’s strategic infrastructure needs.


Candidate investment schemes should be prioritised objectively and ranked by their Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR), which should be calculated using an internationally approved cost of carbon. Some of the schemes suggested by Government, notably rail electrification and urban rail/tram/bus schemes, are likely to score well in this regard but others – including some trunk road schemes – may not.


We welcome the decision to go ahead with Midlands Rail Hub and the Ely/Haughley Junction capacity enhancements. We also welcome the proposal to electrify and enhance the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield and the routes between Sheffield, Leeds and Hull. Both will benefit freight customers as well as passengers. A focus on freight and logistics was noticeably absent from the HS2 announcement and we recommend that much greater emphasis is placed on this economically vital sector.


Specifically, we recommend that the remaining single-track sections on the route to Felixstowe, Britain’s biggest container port, should be doubled and that the Felixstowe to Midlands and North (F2MN) route should be electrified throughout. This would significantly improve supply chain efficiency for businesses in the Midlands, the North and Scotland and reduce their carbon footprint substantially.


We further recommend that another 600 route miles across the UK should be electrified, as set out in our Electrification Strategy published earlier this year. The whole programme is calculated to cost under £2bn – barely 5% of the £36bn released from HS2 – and could be spread over 20 years. It would allow c.95% of rail freight to be electrically hauled, with zero carbon emissions, encourage modal shim of long-distance HGV hauls and generate well over £2bn of private sector investment. It would also permit significant electrification of passenger services across the UK, delivering further economic benefits and decarbonisation.