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Shifting HS2 investment from rail to roads, could actually mean more traffic jams and poorer air quality in Britain’s towns and cities warn rail freight operators-

05 October 2023
  • Failing to build the Northern leg of HS2 to Manchester, means fewer paths for freight trains despite Government commitment to grow the sector
  • Cancelling Phase 2 could lead to up to half a million more lorries on our roads every year
  • Freight operators call on government to set ambitious freight growth target and provide certainty to unlock private investment in rail freight.

While investment in alternative schemes including Ely Junction will be some consolation, the decision not to build the Northern Leg to Manchester has significant negative implications for the rail freight sector and could ultimately lead to up to half a million more HGV movements on our roads every year.

The delivery of Phase 2 was vital to unlock additional capacity on the West Coast Mainline – which remains the busiest mixed-use railway in Europe. Building phase 1 between London and Birmingham but cancelling Phase 2 further north, not only reduces the additional capacity that was planned in that area, but actually risks decreasing capacity for freight overall, as passenger services from HS2 are re-routed on to the mainline in the West Midlands. This will create a significant bottle neck – unless the Handsacre Junction improvement scheme is delivered. Today’s decision will have a marked impact on investor confidence as a result.

A reduction in rail freight isn’t only bad for rail freight operators, but for British businesses, the economy, and the environment. The sector contributes £2.45bn to UK PLC annually, and freight services also support the levelling up of the UK, with over 90% of the economic benefits generated by rail freight occurring outside of London and the South East.

Every tonne of freight transported by rail produces 76% less CO2 than the equivalent transported by road. More road haulage also means lower air quality for residents in cities. So, a net reduction in rail investment by diverting some funds to road, is particularly disappointing.

And a squeeze on rail freight capacity is actually bad for the motorist as well. Cancelling HS2 will lead to up to half a million more lorries up and down the country, with the potential for more traffic jams in towns and cities.

Andy Bagnall, chief executive of Rail Partners, said:

‘A decision of this magnitude will have consequences felt for generations by the rail industry, its supply chain, passengers and freight customers.

‘The cancellation of the northern section of HS2 means less capacity for rail freight and ultimately more lorries clogging our roads, with businesses seeking to decarbonise their supply chains limited in their options to move goods off the roads and onto rails.

‘While reinvestment in other regional rail schemes is a significant consolation for passengers, the decision to reduce investment in rail and divert funds to road schemes feels counterintuitive as we look to attract people and goods traffic away from more carbon intensive modes of transport.

‘In the wake of this decision, it is even more critical that government sets an ambitious freight growth target to maintain investor confidence and outline which strategic freight projects will be taken forward to create capacity in the absence of HS2.’

Alex Veitch, Director of Policy and Insights, British Chambers of Commerce said:

‘Cancelling the second phase of HS2 will massively impact the country’s rail network. Without this vital additional capacity, plans to improve the UK’s freight and passenger services will be restricted. Each HS2 train would have removed up to 129 lorries from the road, this will also be a lost opportunity to build a low-carbon freight transport system. And it will affect our global trade: one in four sea containers arriving or departing from a port is carried by rail, and additional capacity is urgently needed.’

Notes to editors
About Rail Partners

Rail Partners exists to make the railway better by harnessing the expertise and creativity of private sector operators for the benefit of those who use the railway, passengers and freight customers, and those who pay for it, including taxpayers.

Rail Partners provides advocacy and policy solutions for its private sector passenger owning group and freight company members. Rail Partners additionally provides technical services to train operating companies in both the public and private sectors. For more information regarding our membership visit:

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