UK Budget backs underground infrastructure 17 Mar 2016

Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk

The UK Budget, announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in Parliament yesterday (16 March), confirms the country’s commitment to three major transportation projects that require extensive tunnelling totalling a possible 83km of twin running alignment.

After more than a year of investigations, reports and feasibility studies carried out by the UK National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the Government has chosen to prioritise further development of Crossrail 2 in London; a trans-Pennine road tunnel under the Peak District National Park between Manchester and Sheffield; and one or more trans-Pennine rail tunnels as part of the first stage of a phased development of the now-confirmed HS3 rail programme between Liverpool in the west and Newcastle in the north-east.

Fig 1. Budget supports 38km of Crossrail 2 tunnels
Fig 1. Budget supports 38km of Crossrail 2 tunnels

The NIC, headed by Lord Adonis, was established in 2014 to carry out “a clear picture of the future infrastructure the country needs and provide expert, independent advice on priorities” ahead of a future National Infrastructure Asessment which will “set out an overarching, long-term vision [that] the government will be obliged to respond to formally.”

In the short term the NIC was asked to report back on road and rail connectivity in the north of England, and the future transport needs of London. Yesterday’s Budget confirms all the major recommendations in support of Crossrail 2, HS3 and a trans-Pennine road link between Manchester and Sheffield.

Crossrail 2

The supplementary 148-page Budget report, which outlines the Chancellor’s Budget speech in more detail, confirms as a viable project the 38km underground central section of the north-south Crossrail 2 scheme (Fig 1). It also states the aim of passing, by 2019, the necessary legislation required to move the project to a preliminary design phase.

“The government is giving the green light to Crossrail 2, supported by £80 million to help fund development, in response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s report Transport for a World City,” says the Budget report. “The government is asking Transport for London [TfL] to match that contribution, with the aim of depositing a Hybrid Bill within this Parliament.”

It is likely that much of the funding – as it did for the Crossrail project – will come from business rates collected in areas that are likely to benefit. This type of local funding base will become much easier to tap into with the announcement that the Greater London Authority – which works closely with London transport operator TfL to develop and fund transportation infrastructure in the capital – will, from 2017, be given devolved power by the UK national government to collect and distribute all business rates in the city.

The Crossrail 2 delivery authority, established by TfL in December last year (2015), is currently developing a business case that envisages half the estimated £32 billion cost being raised from private sources.

The announcement propels Crossrail 2 to the front of a queue of major tunnelling projects that could move into construction in the next decade.

Fig 2. HS3 to bridge trans-Pennine gap in HS2
Fig 2. HS3 to bridge trans-Pennine gap in HS2


Further behind in development terms, but now with official government support following yesterday’s Budget statement, is HS3. Unlike HS1 and HS2, which feature dedicated high-speed track along their entire alignment, HS3 is a hybrid solution that takes advantage of existing mainline track – and the speed limitations this poses – plus sections of the planned future HS2 Phase 2 section between Birmingham and Manchester via Manchester Airport on the western side of the Pennine mountain range, and sections of the Phase 2 section between Birmingham and Leeds on the eastern side of the Pennines (Fig 2). It is also almost certain to benefit from entirely new sections of track – principally in running tunnels – including a tunnel of up to 20km long under the Pennines.

The long-term vision is to use this mix of current and future rail infrastructure to create, ultimately, a hybrid high-speed connection between Liverpool and Newcastle.

The UK Government’s Budget report confirms that it will kick-start far-reaching plans to improve east-west rail connectivity in the northern region as a whole as part of its so-called £13 billion “Northern Powerhouse” initiative aimed at reducing historical inequalities in infrastructure spending between the affluent south-east and London, and the less well connected north. This will be achieved in the first instance by “giving the green light to High Speed 3 between Leeds and Manchester.” This strategic corridor – which is split, geographically, by the north-south running Pennine range – has historically suffered from poor rail connectivity that is hampered by steep gradients and capacity issues and which affects all east-west connections in the whole northern region.

HS3 will link HS2 across the Pennines
HS3 will link HS2 across the Pennines

In his foreword to the High Speed North report, NIC chairman Lord Adonis says: “Our recommendation [to the Government] is to combine strategic early interventions with a long-term plan. Connectivity between the northern cities should be improved in stages, starting now, not waiting for the 2030s before making transformational changes. On rail this means kick-starting HS3, integrating it with HS2 and planning for the development of the north’s gateway stations.”

As well as accepting all the recommendations of the NIC’s High Speed North report – published earlier this month – the UK Government announces as part of the Budget £60 million in funding in support of further detailed planning of HS3 between Manchester and Leeds, with the aim of “reducing journey times to 30 minutes.” The current journey time along this critical corridor is 49 minutes, which will reduce to 40 minutes once £2 billion worth of track upgrades are completed by Network Rail as part of a separate program of improvements. Critically, this program is limited in scope by a requirement that only existing railway track and land be utilised. This will enable Network Rail to avoid the lengthy planning and environmental processes associated with new alignments, and ensure completion of all the improvements by 2022.

Fig 3. Arup proposals for HS3 tunnel alignments (click to enlarge)
Fig 3. Arup proposals for HS3 tunnel alignments (click to enlarge)

HS3, however, will have no such limitations. The NIC-commissioned High Speed North report confirms that design consultant Arup is currently engaged in coming up with “further potential interventions on the route that could deliver journey time savings involving works beyond the current railway boundary.”

This involves the study of a large number of possible tunnel alignments along a central Pennine route, via the town of Huddersfield (Fig 3). Arup’s report – published earlier this month and entitled Manchester Piccadilly Station Options Assessment – concentrates mainly on plans for integrating HS2, HS3 and local and regional rail services within a much-enlarged Piccadilly Station that will become one of the terminal stations of HS2.

On the instructions of the NIC, however, the report contains a section entitled “Asessment of Opportunities for upgrade of the Manchester to Leeds Railway Line (via) Huddersfield” which details a number of possible tunnel solutions for cutting 10 more minutes off the Manchester–Leeds journey time and enabling delivery of the 30-minute goal.

Table 1. Arup HS3 possible tunnels (see Fig 3 for map)
Tunnel description Length
Est. cost
saved (£)
M60 Crossing–Diggle 12,300 6.0 1,766 294
Stalybridge–Diggle 9,300 3.5 1,355 387
Diggle Tunnel reopening 4,900 * 160  
Diggle Tunnel Booth Bank 3,100 1.5 468 312
Slaithwaite-Ravensthorpe 16,300 5.0 2,410 482
Huddersfield–Morley 13,300 3.0 1,097 636
Morley Tunnel–A563 7,000 2.5 1,018 407
Huddersfield M62/A653 13,500 10.0 2,034 203
Huddersfield A653 crossing 19,500 10.0 2,781 278

* = Reopening of existing tunnel bore to add capacity
Source: Arup Manchester Piccadilly Station Options Assessment (March 2016)

The study proposes tunnels of either 12.3km or 9.2km in the western corridor; the possibility of upgrading and reopening the disused 4.9km Diggle tunnel and the construction of a new 3.1km Diggle tunnel to bypass Marsden in the central section, and a variety of possible tunnel alignments up to 19.5km long in the eastern corridor.

The Arup report also identifies the possibility of a 5.3km long tunnel leading into and out of two dedicated underground HS3 platforms at a reconfigured Manchester Piccadilly Station. This tunnel alignment, according to proposals recommended by Arup, would feed into the 9km-long HS2 tunnels to Manchester Airport, for onward HS2 high-speed connectivity with Birmingham and London and possible future hybrid high-speed connectivity to Liverpool using a mix of HS2 and existing track.

It is also recommended that as part of the planned regeneration of Piccadilly Station in time for the arrival of HS2 – which is currently designed with dedicated HS2 surface level platforms – consideration also be given to incorporating construction of a large underground station box in anticipation of HS3.

Trans-Pennine tunnel would relieve pressure on the M62 highway
Trans-Pennine tunnel would relieve pressure on the M62 highway

Trans-Pennine highway tunnel

Plans are also currently being developed for a trans-Pennine highway tunnel, situated further south of the Arup HS3 rail tunnel studies and under the Peak District National Park. Full details and possible alignments for the 20–30km road tunnel are due to be announced later this month, ahead of a feasibility study that will be published in October.

If accepted – and given the high cost of such a long tunnel – it seems likely that consideration will be given to a combined road and rail crossing of the Pennines that will enable the development of HS3 between Manchester and Leeds by forming a connection with the proposed HS2 alignment north of Sheffield for onward dedicated high-speed HS2 connection to Leeds. This would appear to fit well with Lord Adonis’s stated vision of using existing high-speed infrastructure to supplement the piecemeal development of HS3, starting with the critical trans-Pennine Manchester–Leeds section.

Although the Government now officially endorses Lord Adonis’s recommendation to continue feasibility studies for the trans-Pennine highway tunnel, should it prove unfeasible there is always the option to return to the Arup study into rail tunnel options along the more direct route via Huddersfield. Either way, yesterday’s Budget statement marks a significant positive turn for the UK underground construction industry going forward.

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