Now HS2 northern leg is axed – what next for rail travel in the north?

Rishi Sunak axed HS2 north of Birmingham today, claiming it would free up £36 billion to spend on other transport projects elsewhere.

The prime minister listed a number of other schemes that would get funding instead to be spent in the same 2029-40 period as planned for HS2.

However, the government has released scant about the timescales of the cash for these projects, so they may be some way away.

They are a mix of rail, road, and local public transport schemes. Here’s what we know:

Northern Powerhouse Rail

The government has long pledged to improve east-west rail links between cities in the north. First, as HS3, then as Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The changes in Sunak’s speech are the reinstatement of previous plans for a station at Bradford, and the electrification of the line to Hull. These had been included in the original plans but were later ditched to save money when Mr Sunak was chancellor.

Another difference is that the government has said it will spend an extra £12 billion on replacing a section of track between Liverpool and Manchester that would have been in part provided by HS2.

Road upgrades

The government has reallocated some of the cash away from rail and towards road schemes.

Road upgrades mentioned by the prime minister during his speech include work to improve the A1, A2, A5, A75, and M6.

There will also be funding for the Shipley bypass, the Blyth relief road and “70 other road schemes”. Accompanying material released by the government repeatedly mentioned the fixing of potholes. But no further details on what the upgrades will look like or when they might start were given.


Trams for Leeds

The government has allocated £2.5 billion for a “West Yorkshire mass transit system” – or trams – for Leeds.

Ministers say that the city “will no longer be the biggest European city without a mass-transit system” and have promised “up to seven lines potentially created as part of a transformed network”.

Leeds has been repeatedly promised transport investment before and has not received it.

The North Wales mainline

One of the new projects mentioned by the prime minister was electrifying the North Wales mainline, from Holyhead to Crewe.

This has been a goal of the Welsh government and businesses for some time, but funding has so far been lacking. It will get £1 billion.

Businesses have repeatedly called for the line to be electrified. As far back as 2015 then-chancellor George Osborne had said there was a “really strong case” for wiring up the line.

Don Valley line

This railway line on the edge of Sheffield will be brought back into passenger use between Stocksbridge and Sheffield.

The line was built in the 1840s but closed to passengers in the 1970s. It is currently only used by freight trains serving a steelworks, but there have been plans to reinstate a passenger service since at least 2003.

Midlands rail improvements

Both the West Midlands metro and the Nottingham Express Transit get cash which could be used on extensions, though it will be up to local authorities to decide how to proceed.

The government says extensions could include building Nottingham’s tram network out to Gedling and Clifton South.

It will also fund the Midlands Rail Hub in full with £1.75 billion to connect 50 stations. And more than £1.5 billion was guaranteed in local transport funding for the new East Midlands mayor who will be elected in May 2024.

Over £1 billion extra local transport funding was also pledged for the West Midlands City Region. And a new £2.2 billion fund for local transport across all areas in the West and East Midlands outside the city regions. Reopened tain lines and new stations are also planned for the Ivanhoe Line in the East Midlands.

Other improvements across the country

Downing Street also announced rail improvements in the South West and said it would keep the £2 cap on bus fares in England until the end of December 2024.

It will also transform the rail junction at Ely, Cambridgeshire and upgrade the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer to boost links with Northern Ireland via ferries.

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