Northern Powerhouse Rail

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Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR)[1] also known as High Speed 3 (HS3) or Crossrail for the North is a proposed railway network that aims to improve connectivity in the north of England, connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Manchester Airport, Leeds, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Hull, as well as other significant economic centres.



Historically, the use of the term High Speed 3 was loose – the House of Lords' Economic Affairs Committee (March 2015) stated that there was no firm definition of the route implied by HS3:

Improvements to east-west links in the north of England have often been referred to as "HS3". This term has been used interchangeably to mean the connection between Leeds and Manchester or a longer route running from Liverpool to Hull via Manchester and Leeds. Such a railway would not necessarily need to be high-speed. [..] We refer to "east-west links" rather than "HS3" in this report as there is no clear indication yet what form or route the proposals might take or if the trains will be "high speed" in the same sense as HS2.

— The Economics of High Speed 2, Economic Affairs Committee (2015).[2]

A plan to improve rail journey times in northern England, the Northern Hub or, as currently called, the Great North Rail Project, was developed from a 2009 scheme to improve the rail network around Manchester. Schemes to improve the Leeds-Manchester line speed by 2014 were included in Network Rail's CP5 improvements, with an aim to reduce Manchester-Leeds journey times from 54 to 40 minutes.[3] In 2011, the approximately £290 million electrification of the trans-Pennine Manchester-Leeds line was given funding.[4][5] Work started on the electrification in 2013,[6] with full electrification between Manchester, Leeds and York expected by 2018.[7]

In June 2014, at a speech given at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, the incumbent Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne proposed a high speed rail link between Leeds and Manchester; the line would utilise the existing route between Leeds and Manchester, with additional tunnels and other infrastructure. Osborne argued that the northern cities' influence was comparatively less than London's and that the link would promote economies of agglomeration.[8][9][10]

Osborne suggested the line should be considered as part of a review of the second phase of High Speed 2.[8][11] Initial estimates suggested a rail line with a 140 miles per hour (230 km/h) line speed, and Leeds-Manchester journey times reduced to 30 minutes.[8] Osborne estimated the cost to be less per mile than that of HS2, giving a cost of under £6 billion.[12] Initial responses to the proposal were mixed: Jeremy Acklam of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) suggested that planners should look at connecting other northern cities such as Liverpool, and potentially North East England via York;[12] commentators noted that the proposal could be viewed as an attempt to gain political support in the north of England in the run-up to the 2015 general election:[9][10] the Institute of Economic Affairs characterised the proposal as a "headline grabbing vanity project designed to attract votes". The British Chambers of Commerce, Confederation of British Industry and others were cautiously positive about the proposal, but emphasised the need to deliver on existing smaller scale schemes.[13]

On 5 August 2014, an alliance of six city councils – Leeds, Liverpool, Hull, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne and Sheffield – unveiled an initial regional transport plan linking their cities called 'One North'.[14] This plan incorporated a new 125 miles per hour (201 km/h) trans-Pennine high speed rail link connecting to the northern branches of HS2 at Manchester and Leeds (30min journey time), together with other regional rail developments, and the bringing forward of the construction of the northern part of HS2, as part of a regional transport plan including other road, intermodal port rail freight improvements. The estimated cost of the high-speed Manchester-Leeds rail link was circa over £5bn, with a proposed completion date of 2030; the entire project was costed at £10-15 billion.[15] George Osborne attended the project launch, and provided his backing for the project.[16] A report Rebalancing Britain published by High Speed Two Limited in late 2014 also acknowledged the need for improved east-west transportation links in northern England, and recommended the progressing of the schemes in the 'One North' report.[17][18]

On 20 March 2015, the Department of Transport published plans for transport infrastructure improvements in the north of England, including proposals by the Transport for the North (TfN) working group;[19][20] the TransNorth report proposed a number of options for improved rail links between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull with line speeds up to 140 miles per hour (230 km/h). The proposals included new-build routes between the major northern cities, with cost estimates from £5 to £19 billion, and estimated journey times of one half to two thirds of current routes; alternative upgrades of existing routes were costed in the £1 to 7 billion range, and had lesser journey time reductions, of the order of 10–15 minutes; the proposals were in addition to existing High Speed 2 route options for Liverpool and Sheffield-Leeds. The development options were planned for Network Rail Control Period 6 (2019–24).[21][22]

In March 2016, the newly established governmental advisory body, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), chaired by Lord Adonis, reported on transport infrastructure projects in the north of England. It recommended bringing forward HS3 proposals, beginning with the Manchester-Leeds section.[23][24] The NIC's report, High Speed North, also recommended collaboration between TfN and HS2 Ltd on the design of the northern parts of HS2; and on the design of the improved Manchester Piccadilly station, together with Manchester City Council and other rail bodies.[25] The Report suggested the development of a HS3 link after the completion of Network Rail's £2 billion trans-Pennine electrification upgrade (scheduled to take place between 2015 and 2022, leading to 40-minute journey times).[26] A report by Arup commissioned by the NIC studied additional improvements on the Manchester-Leeds route, focussing on the Diggle route (via Huddersfield) utilising disused track plus new-build tunnels, and identified potential journey time savings of between 1 and 10 minutes.[27] A prelimary study by Network Rail did not rule out that the aspirational Leeds-Manchester journey time of 30 minutes could be achieved on the Calder Valley route.[28] TfN's aspirational Manchester-Manchester Airport and Leeds-Sheffield journey times were identified as being achievable by the HS2 scheme, with modifications to through running to Sheffield city centre.[29] At the 2016 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, endorsed the general proposals by the National Infrastructure Commission for a high speed line between only Manchester and Leeds, with an aim of reducing journey times to 30 minutes between the two destinations.[30][31][32]

In August 2016, the Institute of Public Policy Research urged the Government to prioritise HS3 over HS2.[33]

In August 2017, the former chancellor, George Osborne called for the Government to commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail following backing of Crossrail 2 and scrapping of electrification schemes in July 2017.[34]

Current development

TfN is developing the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme and is considering how the network forms part of the existing and future rail network of the north. £60 million of funding was provided to generate plans for a route by 2017.

Northern Powerhouse Rail is being developed in addition to planned improvements including the Great North Rail Project (formally the Northern Hub). HS2 Ltd and Network Rail have been commissioned by TfN to prepare engineering and costing studies on a range of rail infrastructure options. This could involve new and upgraded rail infrastructure. In addition to serving the six previously identified centres, work is also underway to develop options to serve Other Significant Economic Centres (OSECs). Options for Northern Powerhouse Rail stations will also promote and integrate with masterplans and wider spatial plans, including Leeds Station and Manchester Piccadilly.[35]

TfN analysis suggests that currently fewer than 10,000 people in the north can access four or more of the north’s largest economic centres within 60 minutes. This could rise to around 1.3 million once Northern Powerhouse Rail is fully delivered.[36]

In October 2017, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, allocated £300 million to future-proof junctions between Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 to allow east-west services to use HS2 infrastructure.[37] Later in the same month, it was proposed that an underground station for Manchester Piccadilly should be built to accommodate the new services of up to eight trains per hour; an underground station would require less building work and still provide good links to HS2.[38]

In December 2017, routes were announced. A HS3 service from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Piccadilly via Warrington and Manchester Interchange would link with the HS2 line at Manchester Airport, allowing a service to London via Warrington. Then the line would run through a tunnel into an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly, from where a service to Hull via Sheffield would also link with HS2 network. This would allow a service to Leeds and Newcastle by a link to the existing Leeds station from the HS2 branch shortly before the planned HS2 platforms allowing services to continue to Hull and Newcastle via Leeds. Another line would run from Manchester Piccadilly to Leeds via Bradford, and another to Leeds via Huddersfield having another branch to Newcastle.[39]

On the 16 January 2018, Transport for the North (TfN) released their draft 30-year Strategic Transport Plan of staged developments for northern England. It proposed a new line from Liverpool to Manchester via Warrington, linking with the HS2 line to Manchester Piccadilly, and a new line connecting Manchester and Leeds via Bradford. Lines between Sheffield and Manchester via Stockport and the Hope valley, those linking Leeds and Hull via Selby, and Sheffield and Hull via Doncaster are planned to be significantly enhanced. The lines from Leeds to Newcastle and Leeds to Sheffield are planned to be upgraded with relevant links to HS2.[40] At Manchester Piccadilly, it is likely a new NPR station will be needed and options include a new underground station or a new surface turnback station. Between Manchester and Sheffield, TfN is currently looking at whether it can upgrade the existing line or whether a new line will be needed.[41] A Strategic Outline Business Case for Northern Powerhouse Rail is due to be completed by the end of 2018. There have been calls for an additional stations at Rochdale and Bradford on the new line between Manchester and Leeds.[42]

See also


  1. ^ "New report: Closer running and post-Brexit investment to transform the capacity of Britain's railways: News from Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMECHE)". 
  2. ^ "The Economics of High Speed 2" (PDF), House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, 1st Report of Session 2014-15, Stationery Office, §323, p.95, March 2015 
  3. ^ Manchester Hub Rail Study (PDF), Network Rail, 2010, 2.3, p.14; 3.4.3, p.20; 3.6.1, p.30; 4.3.5, p.38; 4.3.9, p.38; Fig.5.1 (4), p.44, archived from the original (PDF) on 23 October 2014 
  4. ^ Milmo, Dan (28 November 2011), "Network Rail electric lines await chancellor's green light", The Guardian 
  5. ^ Autumn Statement 2011 (PDF), HM Treasury, November 2011, 1.91, pp.31-2; A.18, p.54 
  6. ^ "Bridge works mark the start of Manchester – Stalybridge electrification",, 9 August 2013, archived from the original on 25 December 2014 
  7. ^ "Electrification in the North",, retrieved 23 June 2014 
  8. ^ a b c "High-speed rail link needed to boost north - Osborne", BBC News, 23 June 2014 
  9. ^ a b Farrell, Jason (23 June 2014), "HS3 Line From Leeds To Manchester Outlined", 
  10. ^ a b Watt, Nicholas (23 June 2014), "George Osborne calls for new Manchester to Leeds high-speed rail", The Guardian 
  11. ^ Groom, Brian (23 June 2014), "George Osborne to propose Leeds-Manchester 'HS3' rail link", 
  12. ^ a b Pultarova, Tereza (23 June 2014), "HS3 to boost economy in the North", 
  13. ^ Armistead, Louise (23 June 2014), "Osborne's HS3 is a 'costly vanity project' says IEA", The Telegraph 
  14. ^ "Five cities outline £15bn One North transport plan", BBC News England, 5 August 2014 
  15. ^ "One North - A Proposition for an Interconnected North",, July 2014 
  16. ^ Osborne Pledge on Northern Cities, 5 August 2014, archived from the original on 8 August 2014 
  17. ^ Barrow, Keith (27 October 2014), "HS2 report backs trans-Pennine high-speed link", 
  18. ^ Higgins 2014, pp. 9, 34-36.
  19. ^ "Major rail investment plans for North unveiled",, 20 March 2015 
  20. ^ Riley-Smith, Ben (20 March 2015), "140mph trains for the North as new HS3 plans revealed", The Telegraph 
  21. ^ Revolutionary plans for northern transport set out (Press release), Department of transport, 20 March 2015 
  22. ^ Transport for the North 2015, pp. 19-21.
  23. ^ "HS3 rail link needs 'kick-starting', report concludes", BBC News, 15 March 2016 
  24. ^ High Speed North: A National Infrastructure Commission Report, National Infrastructure Commission, 15 March 2016 
  25. ^ High Speed North 2016, Recommendations 5 & 6, p.9.
  26. ^ High Speed North 2016, §3.25-3.30.
  27. ^ High Speed North 2016, §3.31 - 3.32.
  28. ^ High Speed North 2016, §3.33.
  29. ^ High Speed North 2016, §3.38-3.42.
  30. ^ Budget 2016 (PDF), HM Treasury, Mar 2016, § 1.232, 1.241, 1.291, 2.265 
  31. ^ Budget 2016: some of the things we've announced (press release), HM Treasury, 16 Mar 2016, 7. HS3 between Leeds and Manchester : £60 million has been announced to develop plans to cut journey times to around 30 minutes between Leeds and Manchester, as well as improving transport connections between other cities in the north. 
  32. ^ "Budget 2016 summary: Key points at-a-glance", BBC News, 16 Mar 2016 
  33. ^ "IPPR urges government to prioritise HS3 link". 8 August 2016 – via 
  34. ^ "George Osborne urges HS3 rail link for Northern England". 
  35. ^ "Northern Powerhouse Rail Factsheet" (PDF). TfN. 
  36. ^ "Northern Powerhouse Rail | Transport for the North". Transport for the North. Retrieved 2017-11-19. 
  37. ^ Walker, Jonathan (1 October 2017). "Conservatives announce £400 million for Northern Powerhouse road and rail". 
  38. ^ "Underground Northern Powerhouse Rail station proposed for Piccadilly". 
  39. ^ Collins, David (10 December 2017), "At last, faster trains to arrive in north", The Sunday Times 
  40. ^ "Strategic Transport Plan for northern England published", Railway Gazette, 16 Jan 2018 
  41. ^ Local Transport Authorities of Transport for the North (TfN), Strategic Transport Plan: Draft for public consultation (PDF) 
  42. ^ "Council leader calls for new railway station". 


  • Osborne, George (23 June 2014), Chancellor: 'We need a Northern powerhouse' (speech), Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester 
  • Higgins, David (October 2014), Rebalancing Britain -From HS2 towards a national transport strategy (PDF), HS2 Ltd. 
  • Transport for the North (March 2015), The Northern Powerhouse : One Agenda, One Economy, One North - A report on the Northern Transport Strategy (PDF), HM Government 
  • High Speed North (PDF), National Infrastructure Commission, March 2016 
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