THERE is a lot of talk about HS2 and how it will benefit the North in some way. But it won't be by having a faster connection to London.

Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle are at very different distances from the capital, but their incomes are strikingly similar – their wealth or poverty is their own.

They can be improved by joining them up to make their local cluster bigger. Let’s think of pulling the North together.

Loading article content

Things to come cast their shadow before them. The HS2 project published its thoughts in Broad Options for upgraded and high-speed railways to the North of England and Scotland (BO). Things are hard to change when steelwork is in place and concrete poured, so we must have our say now.

BO is a very slanted document. It refuses to discuss the obvious high-speed route, Edinburgh-Glasgow, which the Scots want and instead offers Carstairs-Edinburgh. Who wants that?

It likes the route Preston, Carstairs (fork) Glasgow and Edinburgh largely because that would give Glasgow and Edinburgh equal journey times to London. We all know there is rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but can’t we grow up?

The west-side route, Wigan, Carlisle, Dumfries, Carstairs (fork) Glasgow and Edinburgh is a non-starter, it twice crosses high ground (Shap and Beattock) and goes to places with small population. Some of BO’s variations propose no stops at Carlisle.

The right route from the Humber-Mersey line to Central Scotland is Leeds, York, Middlesbrough, Middle Rainton, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Newcastle is the chief city of the North-East and Middlesbrough is the second. It has five times the population of Darlington.

BO shows how an upgraded route could go south from Newcastle to Durham and to Darlington by-passing the current route. But a merely upgraded route through the North-East to Scotland is not good enough for a route to Scotland. The old service Newcastle, Durham, Darlington, York, Doncaster…Newark… Stevenage and London will continue as now, people get on and off all the way along, but it misses those important towns Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham etc which the North-East really wants to do business with.

So there must be a new high-speed route from Newcastle and it must go through Middlesbrough, the second 'city' of the North-East. High-speed routes cannot curve with a radius of less than seven kilometres. The route to that specification passes though Middle Rainton. That is three miles east of Durham’s park and ride on the A690. Most of Durham’s railway passengers come by car or taxi. Middle Rainton is within five miles of the west side of Sunderland and the bus service is good.

It might seem that a good route to follow would be the old route through Egglescliffe and Stockton. That is a very curious route, how often do you see a railway station walled-off from its High Street? But that route is blocked off by the houses of Norton.

It is quite impossible to take the route through centre of old Middlesbrough, there are too many houses in the way. And it would be unthinkably expensive to cross the Tees there by bridge or tunnel.

But there is no need. The route can cross the Tees on the low embankment as the A19 does about a kilometre to the west.

It should be built as a bridge over the river so as to give good connections to both banks. It is as central to the lower Tees conurbation as it can be.

George Stephenson’s Stockton and Darlington railway terminated very near here, so I think this station should be called Stephenson. The route narrowly misses the millionaire’s village of Wynyard.

HS2’s drawings of its proposed HS2 stations show a pair of through rails, flanked with stopping rails. That creates a walk of about five minutes to feeder transport. I have suggested to HS2 a better arrangement – the through rails will be splayed, the stopping rails will be inside of them, and the feeder transport, buses or trams, inside of them. A cross-platform interchange.

In this case, the barrier will be outside the bus station, this will treat the buses like a train, you will have to buy a bus or train ticket at the barrier and show it to the bus driver before you are let onto the bus. Stephenson station should be built like this.

*Michael Bell is an independent rail campaigner. He was born in North Shields and brought up in Otterburn. He worked as an industrial hygienist and retired back to his native Tyneside. For more information on his proposals, see www.thornshapedroute.com

*What do you think of his ideas? Write to Hear All Sides (details on facing page) or email echo@nne.co.uk