A superfast solution for Northern Powerhouse Rail

The world’s fastest underground system could make Manchester to Leeds by train in nine minutes a daily reality if a new project gets under way. Andy Walker spoke to the company behind the ambitious plans.

The current TransPennine Express train (left). Could this be replaced with a superfast Maglev train (right)?

Plans are being considered for a futuristic project to build a rail link to deliver a Manchester to Leeds train journey in a barely believable nine minutes as part of an eventual Liverpool to Hull route of just 29 minutes. The route will use Maglev trains which already exist in China and Japan at up to 340mph, or even Hyperloop ‘trains’ which are being developed up to 650mph.

The company behind the plans is Direct City Networks 300+ (DCN300+), an Anglo- American collaboration looking at how proven Maglev technology can be adapted to meet the unique demands facing transport in the UK. DCN300+ proposes a Maglev solution built in small tunnels and running from city centre to city centre. The preliminary business case which has been evaluated in detail, focuses on a route between Manchester and Leeds.

Unsurprisingly, DCN300+ group managing director Daragh Coleman is a passionate advocate of the scheme. “The current Maglev that runs in China has been the world’s fastest train for the past ten years at 270mph and we can use that as a minimum,” says Coleman. “We have done all the aerodynamic analysis with Imperial College and we know you can reach those speeds in a tunnel. It’s simply a case of putting together existing technology with existing tunnels and existing Maglevs. It’s a ‘nothing to invent solution’, it’s not science fiction and it’s already out there elsewhere in the world,” he tells me.

Coleman says the solution has not been tried before because Maglev was previously seen as very expensive but increasing costs for current UK high speed rail schemes have made a much better case for Maglev that didn’t exist before. I ask Coleman where the project is at currently. “We have produced a business case that proves it is financially viable and taken it to Transport for the North, who think it’s incredible but want to know that it really works and we are now in discussions with them to demonstrate that it does,” he says. 

Coleman says that the alternative solution to his project is HS3 or Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is a 20-year project that would cost a lot more than his Maglev solution, take a lot longer to build and cause enormous disruption. “Even then the Manchester to Leeds journey time might be 30 minutes after spending all that money and time, where we could build our solution in half the time, at half the cost and the journey would be nine minutes every day. They need to work out whether they want to do it the old way or the new way,” says Coleman.

The Maglev solution would take people and freight off the current TransPennine Express route and replace the proposals for HS3 to deliver a different, superfast solution. So what will be the overall cost? Coleman says that the DCN300+ Maglev route will cost around £100m a mile which compares favourably with the cost for HS2 which is coming in at around £200m a mile. The Manchester to Leeds route would therefore cost £3.6bn, which Coleman says is more justifiable than other comparable rail routes being planned.

The travelling public should also benefit if Coleman’s solution sees the light of day. “The lowest possible single fare between Manchester and Leeds will be £6.54,” says Coleman. “Everyone looks at that and says ‘that’s a ridiculously low figure and you could double it’ and if we did double it this has got a huge business case. Even at £10 at today’s standards or £15 by the time it is built it would be hugely profitable,” he claims.

So how soon could we see 270mph trains hurtling under the Pennines from Lancashire to Yorkshire? “If it was a normal process through a transport works act we are talking about a three year planning cycle and a four year build, so this could be built in seven years’ time if the government remains supportive,” says Coleman.

To produce their solution, DCN300+ has assembled a team of leading advisers and specialists and consulted widely with the public sector and industry. They now feel it is time to share the conclusions of their analysis and open it up to scrutiny. They hope their proposals will be taken on board and that the UK will soon see a transformational Maglev-based rail solution for the north of England.

For further information on the project see www.DCN300.co.uk

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.