In a major development, the UK Government's decision to halt the construction of the HS2 high-speed rail line north of Birmingham has raised concerns in the rail freight industry. The decision includes the cancellation of the route to Crewe and Manchester, while HS2 trains are expected to continue running to Manchester and other destinations using existing railway lines, primarily the West Coast Main Line.
The Rail Freight Group (RFG) expressed disappointment over the implications of HS2 trains sharing tracks with existing services. The West Coast Main Line is a crucial rail freight route in the country, home to critical rail terminals. Recent years have seen significant investments in new strategic rail freight interchanges, construction terminals, and rolling stock to support growth on this route, all relying on the capacity for new freight trains. The decision to allow HS2 trains on congested parts of the network has raised concerns among investors and stakeholders striving to reduce road traffic by shifting more cargo to rail.
While RFG was pleased with the Government's commitment to rebuilding Ely Junction, which would create much-needed new capacity for rail freight in East Anglia, the overarching concern remains. Maggie Simpson OBE, RFG Director General, stated that scrapping the extension of HS2 while still permitting its trains on the existing network is the least favorable decision. She emphasized the need for additional investment to upgrade the West Coast Main Line to accommodate both current services and the influx of HS2 trains. Moreover, private-sector rail freight operators and customers who have already invested in new facilities and equipment require urgent assurances that they will have access to the rail capacity necessary for introducing new services.