HS2 bosses explain why Manchester Piccadilly underground plans were rejected

HS2 bosses said an underground Manchester Piccadilly station had been ruled out because it would cost too much and cause too much disruption for little benefit.

The plan for an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly has been promoted by railway engineers and planners as a way to maximize the potential connectivity and value of the HS2 station, combining it with a Northern Powerhouse Rail station to boost connectivity in the North.

November’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) made it clear that the Government’s preference was for a surface-level ‘rollback’ station.

Despite being urged by engineers, railway experts and politicians to properly consider the economic benefits of an underground station, last month Transport Secretary Grant Shapps flatly ruled out the idea, saying that ‘”a number of different studies have been carried out”. .

This week, the Permanent Secretary to the Department for Transport, Bernadette Kelly, the Chief Executive of the High Speed ​​Rail Network, Clive Maxwell, and the Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd, Mark Thurston, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee this week to give evidence orally on the expenses of HS2 Ltd.

Stretford and Urmston MP Kate Green asked the panel to explain the cost-benefit analysis of Manchester station.

Maxwell said: ‘The ministry has looked extensively, with the help of HS2, into what the alternatives are and to do it underground.

“That 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 up to £5bn extra for this station, so the ministry, ministers and government felt that was the wrong thing to do, and that at the instead a surface station with a turn-around facility should be used, allowing trains to go one way and return the other way.

Continuing his series of questions, Green then wanted to know what the potential benefits of an underground Manchester Piccadilly were.

Maxwell replied: “The obvious one is that if you build on the surface, you can’t use that surface for other types of development, and that’s one of the things Manchester are interested in doing. As I said, the disadvantages of doing so – the much higher cost of building underground and the disruption involved – outweighed that.

Talk to NCE, Arep chief innovation officer – and former HS2 design panel member – Alistair Lenczner pointed out several flaws in Maxwell’s claims. He said: ‘It’s unclear how the alleged ‘extra £5bn’ for an underground station solution came about. Even the proposed much larger HS2 station at Euston, which is mostly underground, is now budgeted at around £3billion. This figure of 5 billion pounds therefore seems very questionable.

“The underground station solution proposed by Weston Williamson + Partners is very similar in layout and size to the proposed HS2 station at Old Oak Common, which has a construction budget of approximately £1 billion. Manchester Piccadilly is therefore expected to cost around £1bn instead of £5bn.

While Maxwell asserted that the “most obvious” advantage of an underground station is the ability to build over it, Lenczner pointed out that the real advantage comes from the additional capacity and connectivity provided by an underground station. passage.

He said: “The rollback solution offered by HS2 will significantly limit the number of trains per hour that can use the station. Compared to a walk-through underground station with the same number of platforms, a U-turn terminus station would allow only 40-50% in terms of trains per hour.

“There would be substantial passenger benefits from a direct station (rather than a terminus station) in terms of connectivity, convenience and travel time. This explains why, elsewhere in Europe, many large terminus stations have been converted to allow the passage of rail services over the past 20 years or so.

Railway engineer Gareth Dennis also disputed Maxwell’s reasoning. He said NCE: “I haven’t seen any evidence that Westminster has done an analysis of the real benefits of an underground station versus their horrible compromise of a terminal station above ground.

“Given that the hugely complex Euston station costs around £2billion, I think the quoted ‘£5billion extra’ for an underground station is a deliberate overstatement – ​​and given the lack of analysis of the advantages of the full Northern Powerhouse Rail over those of the Government. Stub of the integrated railway plan, this value does not make any sense anyway.

‘This government’s proposals, led harshly from the Treasury, are a scorched earth plan designed to make it almost impossible to build the entire Northern Powerhouse Rail and limit the benefits of this major infrastructure investment.’

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Bonny J. Streater