The Impact of HS2 on Wales


Written by Professor Stuart Cole



HS2 should be considered in two parts in respect of its impact on Wales:

  • the section between London and Birmingham
  • the Y sections between Birmingham and Leeds / Sheffield and Manchester / Liverpool.

The London – Birmingham section  has to be built to relieve capacity constraints on that section of the West Coast Main Line. If this is to be done then the HS2 high speed line is the only option.

If HS2 is built to Manchester then there will be some benefit for north east Wales if the trains stop at Crewe, given the short distance between Wrexham and Crewe.

This section would also benefit North Wales if the NWML was electrified and the TGV / Eurostar 220mph trains operated along that track (at 120 mph), reducing the journey time from Bangor from 3h 10m to 2h 30m.

The south of Wales receives considerable economic disbenefit to Cardiff and Bristol from HS2. Cardiff is developing as an important back office centre for City of London financial and legal service companies. With HS2 Cardiff will lose some of its competitive edge in term of journey times to and from London.

With the construction of HS2 the comparative journey times will be 1h 10m from London to Leeds (down from 2h 08m now), 1h 20m from London to Manchester (from 2h 23m), and 1h 50m from London to Cardiff (following electrification being put in place on the Great Western Main Line this month). If HS3 had been built the journey time from London to Cardiff would have been 1h 02m.

It is a matter of regret that the UK Government did not build the HS3 route between London and Cardiff which was promoted by academics, businesses and the Welsh Government in 2013, rather than upgrade the Great Western main line.

While this investment has brought journey time benefits to South Wales, these will now be lost when Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester have far reduced times between them and London from HS2.

Building the Heathrow Airport western link to and from the GWML would also benefit Cardiff, especially if HS3 is built. International business investors value high speed links from locations such as the City or Heathrow Airport when travelling to developments or potential inward investments in South Wales.

In summary, what does HS2 do for Wales:

  • if NWML is electrified there are journey time benefits to/from London
  • If HS3 is built South Wales (Cardiff in particular) continues to be competitive with northern England cities
  • On its own and built in full HS2 leads to considerable economic disadvantage to South Wales if these two above investments are not made at the same time.

On an investment appraisal note the electrification from London to Swansea had a benefit to cost ratio (BCR – the UK  Department for Transport standard investment test) of 2.6:1, and including Valley Lines 4.6:1. HS2 now has a BCR of 0.1. The minimum BCR for HM Treasury approval without ministerial direction is 2.0:1.

When prime ministers from Cameron and May to Johnson refer to the Trans-Pennine route as HS3 they clearly took no notice of Wales/Bristol's plan for the original HS3 link between London and  Cardiff and its economic and time-saving benefits.

Part of the plan was to build Heathrow Terminal 6 at Llanwern with a journey time of 35 minutes on trains, currently capable of travelling at up to 225 mph between Terminal 3 and Terminal 6.

Of course, the extension between Birmingham and Manchester/Liverpool and to Leeds may go the same way as the Cardiff – Swansea electrification with constant changes in UK government views.