Greater Manchester leaders have demanded a breakdown of how high-speed train bosses arrived at an ‘unaffordable’ £5billion estimate for an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly. Mayor Andy Burnham and Transport for the North have long called for an underground station to ensure future-proof rail links in the north and increase the value of HS2.
They also said the alternative – an above-ground ‘rollback’ station on the northern flank of the existing hub – would create a jungle of concrete viaducts that would ‘cut through’ east Manchester, with 14,000 potential new jobs lost due to the amount of land needed to build it, reducing potential economic growth by around £333m by 2050.
However, High Speed Rail chief executive Clive Maxwell, who told the public accounts committee this month that an ‘underground box’ would cost an additional £5billion and cause ‘huge disruption’ , also said that going underground was “not the right thing to do”. do,” while arguing that a surface-level rollback facility was the way to go.
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This follows the release of the government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IPR) in November, which along with a decommissioned Northern Power Station and HS2 also indicated an overhead station as the preferred option. Now leaders here are demanding to see how the government arrived at the £5billion figure.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, told the Manchester Evening News he “didn’t acknowledge” the figure, adding, “It’s up to them to explain exactly how they got there.” Mr Burnham added: “More broadly, billions and billions have been spent on London’s stations over the years, virtually every major station has undergone a huge overhaul over the last decade and yet you look at our stations , the five city center stations, when was the last time they saw major investment?
He added: ‘Whatever the figure is in terms of the cost of going underground, why don’t we deserve the station we actually need instead of just being told we’re getting what we’re given? One of the reasons we have so many problems with rail services and the reliability of rail services is the congested infrastructure in central Manchester.
“It seems fair to me to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
He said the surface option would keep the economy of the North at a “lower level”, adding: “If this solution is built in 100 years, people will say ‘what were they doing?’ Why didn’t they get it right for the North? The North needs the best east-west connectivity possible, i.e. an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly. Future generations will not forgive us. It goes beyond politics, it’s what’s best for the North of England for the rest of this century and beyond.”
Meanwhile, in London, the £1.6bn Old Oak Common will be a new 850m ‘super-hub’ for HS2 in west London. Designed to be the “best connected and largest new rail station ever built in the UK”, it will house no less than 14 platforms, including six high-speed underground and eight conventional above ground, four of which will serve Crossrail. And no unsightly overpasses here; twin tunnels will take high-speed trains east to the southern terminus of Euston and west to the outskirts of London.
The MEN asked the Department for Transport (DfT) for a breakdown of how they arrived at the £5billion figure for an underground station. A spokesperson said: ‘HS2 Ltd’s work on this has not been published and therefore no breakdown is currently available.
The debate is now entering the political arena with the Crewe-Manchester HS2 Bill, including the proposal for a cut-rate tube station in Piccadilly, currently before parliament. And despite the setbacks, the mayor vowed to persevere: “We will continue to fight and we will fight all the way through the bill (HS2) through parliament. I think we can win the argument in parliament.”
The bill also includes the scrapped part of HS2, which should have gone from the East Midlands to Leeds.
The Government’s preferred option would rise from below ground on a viaduct at least nine meters high over a mile-long stretch between Ardwick and the new station. Manchester Council said Northern Powerhouse Rail, the proposed high-speed link to Leeds, would then have to return from the station on another viaduct somewhere near the first.
And executives and technical experts warn that the station would be full from day one of HS2 and NPR, meaning the station would not have the capacity to accept additional services in the North beyond that. Such a move would not be seen in London, they also claim, where an HS2 underground station – with similarities to Manchester’s underground proposals for Piccadilly – has already been funded and is being built.
In direct opposition to the DfT’s insistence there is no compelling case for an underground station, the council’s previous and most recent analysis suggests both a huge opportunity cost – as well as the blight of communities east of the city and years, if not decades, of disruption.
Building on the surface, HS2 is expected to emerge from the ground at Ardwick, before traversing a mile-long viaduct of up to 12 meters in height to reach the new surface station. In order to then connect to Leeds, it would have to turn around and leave Piccadilly on other viaducts through East Manchester towards Yorkshire. With detailed design proposals for NPR unavailable, it is unclear how far or exactly where these structures would extend.
Leaders here instead want an underground version built from a different angle, so the high-speed service can simply travel direct from London and into Yorkshire. Manchester’s argument is also based on the huge economic cost of developing above ground rather than underground
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps previously denied in the House of Commons that railway tracks would be raised on the viaducts entering Piccadilly. In response to Blackley and Broughton MP Graham Stringer in November, he said HS2 “will not be on stilts going forward”.
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