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How Might Freight Logistics Work Without HS2 In The North?

The worst-kept secret in politics was finally revealed by prime minister Rishi Sunak in his Conservative Party conference speech as he announced the cancellation of the northern part of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester.

To make this announcement in Manchester itself was a risky strategy, to say the least, but Mr Sunak argued that the rising cost and changing work patterns with more people working from home had undermined the case for HS2 and that it was better to spend the money elsewhere. But what might this mean for the freight transport sector?

Mr Sunak argued that the north in particular and the country at large would benefit more from “hundreds” of other transport projects funded by the £36 billion saved on the Manchester leg.

These included an electrified ‘northern network’ rail link from Liverpool to Hull, with a new connection to Bradford, plus the (already promised) tram system for Leeds, electrification of rail in north Wales and various road improvements.

While this leaves a lot for passengers who might have used HS2 to mull over, the logistics sector might also be keen to establish what all this means. After all, one of the benefits of HS2 was higher capacity, taking fast trains off other lines that could be used more for both extra passenger services and freight.

Clearly, some developments, like trams for Leeds, will not particularly help this, though they will make the city’s roads less busy in rush hour. However, some elements may be more helpful to freight transport, by taking cars off roads between towns and cities by making longer rail journeys across the north and Midlands more attractive.

To this end, it may be argued that the situation in north Wales could be improved by its electrified and upgraded lines, Bradford’s new station will prevent it from being bypassed by a focus on connections between Manchester and Leeds, while the Midlands transport hub will enhance east-west links between Birmingham and cities like Nottingham and Leicester.

That could have some clear benefits in taking some traffic off the M62, or on roads running across the Midlands like the A38 and A50. Indeed, even West Midlands mayor Andy Street, who admitted to considering resigning over the HS2 decision, admitted the prospect of the Midlands Rail Hub looked very promising.

However, the specific road announcements may be more important for those transporting goods this way. Greater capacity, faster speeds or even altogether new roads could make these journeys a lot easier.

Apart from upgrades to some major northern roads, including the perennially busy M6 motorway, the £3.3 million fund for road resurfacing across the north would have clear advantages for road freight firms using them, given this will reduce damage and wear-and-tear on freight vehicles.

While the decision to axe HS2 has attracted as much criticism from inside the Conservative party as outside it (former prime minister David Cameron was one of the critics,blasting the decision in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter), some may at least ask if the promised local transport improvements may actually be broadly beneficial to the freight logistics sector.

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