Increased use of already busy commuter trains would be needed to reach a change to HS2 at Leeds

The HS2 effect

With the cost of HS2 now estimated to be at least the official £56bn and now possibly £30bn more than that, the value of a high speed railway to the vast Yorkshire region with its many population centres continues to come under scrutiny. That now includes a government review and a decision on whether work will proceed on this scheme is now expected following the December 2019 election.

The HS2 plan is to build a high-speed railway from London to Birmingham, then, subject to Government approval, create a Y-shape of northern links from Birmingham to Manchester, then Birmingham to Leeds by 2033.

Some have maintained the whole Yorkshire region will receive a major boost from the high-speed railway. In its submission in October to the government review, Transport for the North states that delivering HS2 in full would transform connectivity and support the regeneration of towns and cities.

The design of HS2, however, quite obviously bypasses and fails to provide any useful junctions or stations for most major towns and cities in Yorkshire and many believe HS2 with its limited connectivity is an expensive luxury item, or even a 'white elephant'. This is especially the case when considering the practicalities of having to catch commuter trains to reach one of the few stations where you can catch an HS2 service in the first place.

Many have spoken out for a much greater need for better commuter railways to ease Yorkshire's congestion hotspots and a greater priority for spending on such improvements. They have stated a need for better trains with more seats and more stations and some areas now congested with road traffic have even called for reopening of some lines closed in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

Low Moor, near Bradford, is one of Yorkshire's newest commuter stations, but several other proposed stations have for years been waiting for funds to build them The massive cost of HS2 is equivalent to the cost of opening several thousands of new commuter stations on existing lines. HS2, on the other hand, has only one new station proposed in the whole of Yorkshire, a terminus at Leeds, while there will be connections to existing conventional railways, but only reaching to Sheffield and York.

The audience for the premium HS2 line is potentially further narrowed by the likelihood of higher fares than existing, sometimes more direct, if slightly slower, journeys.

For the first time, a new Yorkshire.guide study has assessed individual cities and major towns throughout the Yorkshire region, calculating the expected time benefits HS2 will bring when the proposed section from the Midlands to Leeds is complete in 2033. It assumes that by that time HS2 will have been built from London to Birmingham and already extended from Birmingham to Manchester.

If built, the travelling public will be the ultimate judges of whether HS2 represents value for money. It would, however, be a significant failing if only then it was discovered that Yorkshire people were not prepared to pay a premium price just to save, at most, 45 minutes on journeys to London; or that Yorkshire people weren't prepared to start out on congested commuter trains and have to change trains or even stations just to save a few minutes over a slightly slower direct service; or that dead-end stations in London and Birmingham are not the only places Yorkshire people want to travel to.

On each home page for the biggest cities and towns in Yorkshire, also shown below, we have added one of three simple ratings based on convenience and time saved over present-day services if travelling from there to London:

White elephant:
Takes the same time or longer than an existing service or saves less than 10 minutes while now causing a change of trains.
Coffee break:
Saves 10 to 45 minutes. Time for a cup of coffee at your destination rather than on the train?
City slicker:
Saves 45 minutes or more on the existing service, getting you to that all-important London meeting in good time.

At present services between Leeds and London use platforms near to connecting services We've been fairly generous towards HS2 in making the assessment. Where a change of trains would be needed, we have assumed that you are on the fastest train to the station where you change to HS2, that it arrives on time, that you have 10 minutes to change to the HS2 platform and that an HS2 train is already waiting to depart at that time. No assessment is made of additional journey costs possible in connecting to HS2. The assessment is made on journeys from Yorkshire to London with again no account taken of any convenience or inconvenience in arrival at London Euston rather than London King's Cross station. HS2 may, however, offer benefits other than travel to London, such as trains to a new Birmingham terminus station or to the East Midlands station, where a change of train would be made for Nottingham and Derby, or to the Birmingham Interchange station, a short ride from the NEC or Birmingham airport.

Here's our view of the HS2 effect for cities and major towns

Barnsley

Although offering less of a time saving than the originally planned HS2 station at Meadowhall, changing to HS2 at Sheffield will shave around 42 minutes off the fastest feasible time to London at present.

Bradford

HS2 would potentially cut 41 minutes from the fastest journeys to London from the city if catching the fastest train to Leeds and finding a perfectly timed connection there. It would, however, involve taking the standard service to Leeds and changing platforms, whereas direct services to London are available from Bradford stations at present.

Doncaster

While HS2 will now be routed through the Doncaster metropolitan district, no station or link between HS2 and East Coast Main Line is planned there. Even after HS2 is built through the area, the existing East Coast Main Line will continue to offer the fastest route from Doncaster to London.

Halifax

Halifax falls into the 'white elephant' category for the Leeds arm of HS2 only on the basis HS2 will be built first to Manchester. Travelling via HS2 at Leeds would then shave less than 10 minutes off the time of travelling via HS2 from Manchester.

Harrogate

While Harrogate does have some services through to London at present, catching the commuter train into Leeds and walking to a ready to depart train at the HS2 platform would potentially save 38 to 42 minutes off current best journey times.

Huddersfield

While HS2 should speed up connections to and from Huddersfield, it falls into the white elephant category here on the basis HS2 will be built first to Manchester. After that, the journey via the Leeds arm of HS2 would be slightly longer.

Leeds

The fastest HS2 journeys could be as little as 1hr 21min. The higher route mileage to London may be a small price to pay, but faster running and no other town or city centre stations on the way does mean a saving of 38 minutes on the current fastest train*. If not starting your journey in Leeds city centre itself, however, some of the gain may be lost with the longer walk from connecting trains to change platform at a new station in Leeds. Also trains will arrive at Euston rather than at King's Cross.
* 1hr 59min (7.00am Leeds - Wakefield Westgate - London King's Cross service)

Middlesbrough

Changing at York, there would potentially be a 29min time saving to London on the faster but longer route mileage of HS2.

Rotherham

Although offering less of a time saving than the originally planned HS2 station at Meadowhall, if there is a perfectly timed connection to HS2 at Sheffield around 38 minutes would be cut from the time of the current fastest journey changing at Doncaster. The projected HS2 time is based on the fastest train from Rotherham to connect at Sheffield rather than slower tram journeys.

Scarborough

There would potentially be a 29min time saving to London changing at York to the fastest train on the HS2 route compared with the current fastest East Coast Main Line trains.

Selby

Even the fastest trains offering a perfect connection to HS2 at either Leeds or York will shave only 6 or 7 minutes off the current fastest journey times with the added effort of a change of trains. At most times the HS2 journey would take longer than the existing service.

Sheffield

Although the HS2 journey from Sheffield, rather than the originally planned Meadowhall, would operate over conventional lines via Chesterfield in Derbyshire before joining the high speed track it is estimated it will shave 42 minutes off current fastest journeys to London with a fastest HS2 time of 1hr 25min.

Wakefield

The HS2 tracks from London could easily have been designed to join existing tracks south of Wakefield to allow HS2 trains to stop in the city before continuing to the present Leeds station. Instead an expensive and controversial HS2 by-pass has been planned around Wakefield, leaving the city without any HS2 station, while a new HS2 station is planned in Leeds. In terms of HS2 travel into Leeds, the by-pass saves around five minutes travel time between a point at Crofton, south of Wakefield, where HS2 would bridge the existing tracks it could have joined. But the new terminus station in Leeds would potentially mean an extra five minutes walking time to the platforms. The journey time saving in bypassing Wakefield is potentially lost on the walk time between platforms for onward travel.

Wakefield therefore faces travelling north to Leeds to change to HS2 to travel south again. This will not offer any significant time saving over the present service. The very best connection time would save 3 minutes at most and would mean extra hassle of changing trains and almost certainly additional costs related to the longer journey. Continuing to use the existing service may not be an option, however. With HS2 in place it seems unlikely that the existing service would continue at its present frequency.

Travelling south from Wakefield to catch HS2 at Sheffield would mean even longer journey times than at present.

York

With a branch of the HS2 track to Leeds also stretching out towards lines into York, there would be a 29min time saving on the fastest HS2 trains from York compared with the fastest train to London on the East Coast Main Line at present albeit with a longer route mileage and, therefore, possibly higher fares. The fastest HS2 time would be around 1hr 24min.


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