Rail bosses have explained why they will not fund an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly as part of HS2 – saying its ‘£5billion cost’ and the disruption it will cause will outweigh the benefits. Northern leaders have long warned that an air terminal will “destroy” a large swathe of downtown, hurt the economy and limit the future capacity of our congested rail network.
But in November, with the publication of the government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IPR), it became clear that the warnings of politicians and engineers had not been heeded when a preference was expressed for a ‘return’ station back” at surface level. And this week they finally came up with an explanation, with High Speed Rail managing director Clive Maxwell saying it would be too expensive to go underground.
Mr Maxwell appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, where Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston Kate Green asked the panel to explain the cost-benefit analysis of Manchester station.
READ MORE: Second major city center site purchased to expand Piccadilly station for HS2
Mr Maxwell confirmed that the station was ‘designed as a surface station for High Speed 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail’. He added: “The Department looked thoroughly, with the help of HS2, at what the alternatives were and to do it underground. This would have meant digging a very large underground box and cavern to accommodate all these platforms. , and that would have cost very large sums of money.
“It would also have caused huge disruption in central Manchester. I think the estimates we had were an additional £5bn for that station, so the department, ministers and government estimated that this was the wrong thing to do, and that instead a surface station with a turn-around facility should be used, allowing trains to go one way and return the other sense.
As pundits scramble to find evidence of that £5billion cost, it’s likely Greater Manchester leaders are preparing their response. the Manchester Evening News asked Mayor Andy Burnham and Transport for the North for their opinion. Both have long advocated for an underground station to ensure future-proof rail links in the north and increase the value of HS2.
They also argued that 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’ the east of 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.
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.
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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
The council’s own analysis suggests that by building above ground, the new high-speed station would gobble up half a million square meters of prime development land, costing 14,000 potential new jobs in the process, as well as 2,600 jobs in the immediate construction area while work is taking place.
Earlier work by technical consultants Bechtel, hired by the council in 2019 to review potential options for Piccadilly, had already concluded that pre-existing plans for an HS2 station now simply had NPR as an “add-on”. , rather than a fundamental overhaul of designs to ensure the most sensible solution.
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”.
“Of course we can only spend the same money once and we have to spend it as wisely as possible,” he added of Piccadilly’s plans.
“If we spend £6 billion or £7 billion building the underground station in Manchester, we’ll take it out to Liverpool, Leeds, Hull or some of the other places that are asking for money.”
The Manchester Evening News has asked the DfT for comment.
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