Put HS3 at the heart of a High Speed North – Adonis

Published: 15 Mar 2016



Salford Quays Millennium Bridge

The National Infrastructure Commission has today (Tuesday 15 March) published its third report: High Speed North.

In October 2015, the National Infrastructure Commission was asked to advise on strategic improvements to transport connectivity in the North.

Today, the Commission publishes that analysis.

Our central finding is that the North needs immediate and very significant investment for action now and a plan for longer term transformation to reduce journey times, increase capacity and improve reliability.

On rail, this means kick-starting HS3, integrating it with HS2 and planning for the redevelopment of the North’s gateway stations.

On roads, investment should be brought forwards for an early boost in capacity on the M62, the North’s most important east-west link, alongside funding to identify and assess proposals for tackling a range of other strategic challenges.

High Speed North makes practical recommendations to this end.

Transforming Rail

Kick-start ‘HS3’

A higher speed, higher capacity, higher frequency network from Liverpool in the west to Hull and Newcastle in the east, incorporating key northern sections of HS2, upgraded lines, and sections of new track where necessary.

The development of the network should begin between Manchester and Leeds, the two largest economies of the North.

Phase one should reduce journey times from 49 to 40 minutes and increase capacity by 2022.

Phase two could cut times to just 30 minutes. An integrated plan covering both phases should be drawn up before the end of 2017.

Harness HS2

Route decisions on the northern sections of HS2 to be announced later this year should support enhanced high-speed connections within the North, including between Leeds-Sheffield, Liverpool-Manchester, and Sheffield-Newcastle.

Redevelop Manchester Piccadilly

A long-term transformation of the station, combined with shorter-term delivery of additional east-west platforms, would unlock this hub and stimulate significant regeneration across 140 acres in central Manchester.

Better roads

Urgent improvements

Highways England should accelerate enhancements to the M62 between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, which could cut journey times by up to 20% and increasing capacity by up to a third.

Long-term strategy

Development funding should be provided to accelerate the design of further enhancements to the road network, and better connections to Manchester International Airport should be prioritised.

Lord Adonis said,

“If the North is to become a powerhouse it has to be better connected.

“Leeds and Manchester are just forty miles apart but there is no quick and easy way to travel between the two. In rush hour it can take more than two hours by car, by train it can be almost an hour.

“So we should kick start HS3 across the Pennines and slash journey times to just 30 minutes. But we must not wait decades for change – journey times should be cut to 40 minutes by 2022.

“A transformed northern rail network should include high speed connections to HS2 and the dramatic redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly to deliver jobs and investment across the centre of the city.

“By road, major improvements should be brought forward to transform the M62 between Liverpool and Leeds, cutting journey times by up to 20% and increasing capacity by a third, alongside the development of a major strategy to enhance the entire motorway network including access to Britain’s third busiest airport – Manchester Airport.

“A better connected north will be better for jobs, better for families and better for Britain. The work should begin as quickly as possible.”

In Detail

Connecting Leeds and Manchester

On each of the factors known to increase the scope for agglomeration benefits, Manchester and Leeds rank highly amongst the six cities that are the focus of the study.

That Manchester and Leeds are the largest cities, have larger economies than the other cities, are relatively close to each other, and have economic compositions more skewed toward services make them the greatest candidates for a focussed effort to increase agglomeration by improving connectivity between them. (High Speed North, p28)

The city regions of Leeds and Manchester account for 46% of the population of the Northern City Regions.

The city regions of Leeds and Manchester account for 50% of the combined economy of the Northern city regions (Frontier Economics analysis for the NIC, p. 76).

Kick Starting HS3

Transport for the North – representing local transport authorities and combined authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships from the whole of the North of England representing the six city regions in the North – have called for a higher speed, higher capacity, higher frequency network across all of the major linkages in the North from Liverpool to the West and Hull and Newcastle to the East.

We agree – and recommend a strategy to take this forward. HS3 is that network.

The HS3 network will inevitably need to be delivered in phases.

Development should prioritise those links likeliest to provide the strongest benefits for the North – beginning with the crucial Trans-Pennine route between Manchester and Leeds.

The Commission recommends kick-starting the HS3 network by developing a two-part plan for the Trans-Pennine route to reduce journey time between Manchester and Leeds – the North’s two largest economies – by 40% from 49 minutes to 30 minutes and to improve capacity and frequency.

Network Rail, in conjunction with TfN and DfT, should prepare this plan by the end of 2017.

Part 1 should set out how the first phase of the upgrade of the Trans-Pennine route will be delivered, reducing the journey time between Manchester and Leeds to 40 minutes by December 2022

Part 2 should identify and present a full range of options to deliver the next phase, providing a further step-change in connectivity between Manchester and Leeds, aiming to reduce the journey time to 30 minutes.

In parallel TfN should work with the Department for Transport, Network Rail, HS2 Ltd and other stakeholders to prepare to the same timescale a single integrated strategy, combining short-term action with an ambitious long term vision, which supports the overall plan for the HS3 network and brings together the plans for the Trans-Pennine upgrade together with:

  • the design of the northern phase of the HS2 network, including connectivity between Leeds – Sheffield and Liverpool – Manchester
  • proposals for the redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly station

Urgent Improvements to the M62 brought forward

On the strategic road network, Highways England should accelerate capacity enhancements to the M62 between Liverpool and Manchester and between Manchester and Leeds.

Very substantial capital funding should be brought forwards, so that both schemes can be accelerated, with work beginning between Liverpool and Manchester in RIS year 2017 / 2018 – two years ahead of schedule – and work between Manchester and Leeds also significantly fast-tracked.

Two separate roads investments will help transform the M62: in the east, from Manchester-Leeds, and in the west, from Liverpool – Manchester.

The proposed improvements to junctions 10-12 of the M62 – which connect Greater Manchester to Merseyside – will significantly reduce congestion and improve journey time reliability on this route of strategic importance for local, regional and international traffic.

Stress on this section results in a 70% chance of congestion in peak hours, and the planned enhancements have demonstrated a high cost benefit ratio. (Information supplied to NIC by Highways England).

The upgrading of the M62 between junctions 20-25 (which link Leeds and Manchester) to a four-lane smart motorway is also an important project, as it will mark the first time since 1971 that new road capacity has been created linking one side of the Pennines with the other.

Improved capacity has a key role to play in the developing economies of Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, and beyond, as this route provides a vital trans-Pennine link for long-distance, commuter and commercial traffic.

Building on previous work and other forthcoming upgrades, these schemes will result in the whole of the M62 between the M1 and M6 being raised to the most modern standards available.

New evidence suggests that this will bring significant connectivity improvements; a study of recent all lane running smart motorway on the M25 found that journey times reduced by 7% on average, but up to as much as 19%, and that journey times for the slowest 5% of journeys reduced by 14 minutes. (S SM-ALR Monitoring, M25 J23-27, Twelve Month Evaluation Report, Highways England, January 2016)

The speed at which smart motorways can be implemented makes these projects particularly attractive. It is the fastest way of creating new trans-Pennine road capacity and environmental impacts are likely to be limited, as the carriageway does not need to be widened to create an extra lane.

This appears to be a rapid answer to the immediate needs of development.

The North in Perspective

  • The population of the city regions in the North combined exceeds that of London North population: 15 million TfN, The Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda, One Economy, One North, 2015
  • The size of the combined economies of the city regions in the North is £209bn (ONS Regional GVA statistics/ Frontier Economics analysis for the NIC, p. 61)
  • The North West, North East, and Yorkshire and Humber all had productivity below 90% of the UK average in 2014 – and 30% below that of London (House of Commons, Briefing Paper no. 06492: Productivity in the UK, 2016)

Existing Transport Connectivity


  • Manchester to Leeds takes 49 minutes by train, whereas a journey of equivalent length between Reading and London takes less than 30 minutes
  • between Manchester and Sheffield just one train an hour makes the journey in under 60 minutes throughout the day
  • rail passenger volumes have trebled in the North West since 1995-96
  • more than 28 million passengers a year pass through the Network Rail stations of each of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool
  • 20% of passengers are forced to stand on TransPennine Express trains into Manchester in the morning peak
  • 6% of trains arriving in Manchester in the morning peak have passenger levels in excess of capacity – close to the equivalent figure of 7% in London (DfT Rail Statistics 2014)


  • An SDG study found that, “even when the Strategic Road Network is not congested, journey times between major city pairs are long relative to the distance between them.”
  • Without action DfT scenarios show that ‘regular to severe congestion’ (the highest classification) will occur on large swathes of the network between core cities and on links between key Northern assets such as Manchester, Manchester Airport, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, and Newcastle
  • The M62 is the only east-west dual carriageway in the 200 miles between Stoke in the south and Edinburgh in the north
  • 122,000 vehicles a day flow along the M56 every day (DfT Annual Average Daily Flow statistics)

Share this article


Recent Articles

Armitt: Let’s create a legacy of which we can be proud

Armitt: Let’s create a legacy of which we can be proud

Commission Chair Sir John Armitt has today (12 July 2024) welcomed infrastructure related announcements made by the new government in its first few days of office. This week, the Chancellor and other Ministers have made various statements setting out the government’s plans, including on planning reform, devolution to elected mayors, and the establishment of a...

12 Jul 2024 By
We’re recruiting: Analytical advisor
Photo of data graphs on a screen

We’re recruiting: Analytical advisor

Are you passionate about data and understanding the stories and insights it can tell? Are you experienced in analysing large datasets to inform policy and applying learnings to a range of policy issues? Then a role within our Analysis and Modelling team could be right for you. We are looking for two analytical advisers to...

1 Jul 2024 By
We’re recruiting: Senior policy adviser (transport)
Buses at a busy bus station

We’re recruiting: Senior policy adviser (transport)

Are you passionate about improving the UK’s transport systems? Do you have a good mix of experience, skills and insights about how effective transport infrastructure can help boost regional economies, support the decarbonisation of the economy, remain resilient to the impacts of climate change, or make the most of technological developments such as AI? If...

26 Jun 2024 By

Evidence_Icon_Turquoise Created with Sketch.

Explore data used in the Commission's research, and gain insights from across UK infrastructure

Join our team of professionals supporting the Commission to provide evidence based and forward thinking advice on infrastructure strategy.