The second High Speed rail-link (HS2) is designed to give a quicker journey time between Birmingham and London to boost the northern economy. Any investment in the rail network is good news, but links to London are not the only journey times that should be addressed. Routes to London are already fast and the trains are high quality but what about the journey from Birmingham to Nottingham? The current railway infrastructure, reflected to a lesser extent in the motorway network, is very London and south-east centric. 

Urban connectivity between northern cities is a major problem. Rail services linking the metropolitan areas of the north and midlands are relatively poor. Services west of the Peak District are reasonable due to the West Coast mainline but services on the trans-pennine route are less so, whilst those covering the area east of the Peak District between Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham are poor. 

Travelling from Leeds to London takes two hours to cover approximately 270km; to Sheffield takes over an hour to cover 45km and to Manchester takes an hour to cover 60km 

You can work out average speeds from those figures. 

Sheffield to Manchester and Sheffield to Nottingham each distances of roughly 50km take about an hour, whilst Sheffield to London takes about two hours to cover 230km. 

On all these routes the trains to London will be eight or nine coach inter-city sets with a restaurant car and first class accommodation whilst the others will be formed of short overcrowded multiple units with limited facilities and under floor diesel engines. 

The quality disparity between rail services on inter-city (read to London) routes and other routes linking major cities is stark. The latter have over the years been downgraded to near branch line status with direct lines removed or served only by stopping trains. The product being delivered is not of the standard required by business people, academics and other professionals on tight schedules who might wish to combine a journey to see a contact in a neighbouring city with a quick lunch on the go. 

The geography of northern England places a number of large cities including Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent around the green lung of the peak district. Others including Liverpool and Leicester are not far beyond; however the rail links between many of them are slow and sporadic. This population distribution is not greatly different from the Dutch Randstad where far more efficient services are provided – possibly because in that case they include the capital and largest cities, or the German Rheinland.

London will always be the dominant city in the UK but there’s no reason why the gulf between it and other British cities should be so great. What would help our own round-city would be a fast and efficient network of inter-city trains in the true sense; providing a high quality of on-board service and only stopping at major interchanges. 

Inter-urban connectivity is key to the northern regional economy. At present our transport system takes all the blood to the brain instead of circulating it around the body starving other parts of the oxygen needed for growth. Strong links between neighbouring cities would do more to keep capital circling within the regions and stimulate long-term economic growth which will ultimately benefit the whole country including the over-heated and overcrowded south-east.

 

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