HS2’s current plans for the £3bn Golborne link have effectively been scrapped, with the government deciding to withdraw enabling legislation for the link.
The Golborne Link, part of the HS2 Crewe- Manchester scheme, is a proposed 13 mile connection that would branch off the main HS2 line towards Manchester near Knutsfordto rejoin the West Coast Main Line (WCML) near Golborne, just south of Wigan. Construction was expected to start in the early 2030s and the link was due to open in the late 2030s or early 2040s as part of the second stage of HS2 services to Scotland.
The change of plan follows the independent Union Connectivity Review that the government commissioned in 2020 from Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy.
HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson MP explained: “Sir Peter’s final report, in November 2021, set out that the Golborne Link would not resolve all the rail capacity constraints on the WCML between Crewe and Preston. He recommended that the government should reduce journey times and increase rail capacity between England and Scotland by upgrading the WCML north of Crewe and by doing more work on options for alternative northerly connections between HS2 and the WCML.
“Ahead of the government’s response to the Union Connectivity Review, we can confirm the government will look again at alternatives which deliver similar benefits to Scotland as the Golborne link, so long as these deliver for the taxpayer within the £96 billion envelope allocated for the Integrated Rail Plan. We will look at the potential for these alternatives to bring benefits to passengers sooner, allowing improved Scotland services from Manchester and Manchester Airport, as well as from Birmingham and London. HS2 trains will continue to serve Wigan and Preston, as well as Lancaster, Cumbria and Scotland.
“Government, therefore, intends to remove the Golborne link from the High-Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill after second reading. That means that we will no longer be seeking the powers to construct the link as part of this scheme. The Crewe-Manchester HS2 mainline will remain in the Bill as before.”
Rail industry groups have opposed the move, warning that Cutting the Golborne link will cause congestion on West Coast Main Line and hamper onward journeys to Scotland.
In a joint letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG), Railway Industry Association (RIA) and Rail Freight Group (RFG) said that axing the line would create a bottleneck north of Crewe on the West Coast Main Line -impacting passengers and freight.
A High Speed Rail Group spokesperson said: “The Golborne Link is a vital part of HS2 as the main line linking London with Glasgow and Edinburgh. Improving this connection should not be derailed by party political interests – it is essential to both national connectivity and net zero ambitions.
“By contradicting the vision for HS2 set out in November’s Integrated Rail Plan, the government risks undermining its credibility within industry and spreading indecision at a time when the rail sector needs certainty in order to deliver Europe’s biggest infrastructure project.”