Ministers have quietly ditched the £3bn connection between HS2 and the West Coast Main Line that would have allowed Scotland to benefit from the new high-speed train line.
The decision to axe the 13-mile Golborne link was announced by HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson on Monday night, just 30 minutes before the outcome of Boris Johnson’s crunch leadership vote.
The link would have left the high-speed line between Crewe and Manchester and cut through Trafford to join the West Coast Main Line to the south of Wigan and then continue its journey to Scotland.
Rail industry bodies have strongly criticised scrapping the line and said the removal of it would create a “bottleneck” that will “negatively impact outcomes for passengers, decarbonisation and levelling up.”
It comes just weeks after engineers warned the government that removing the Golborne link was “short-sighted” and “hobbles” the value of HS2.
HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said: “HS2 is a once-in-a-lifetime project that will transform travel across the entire UK as we know it and serve millions of people for hundreds of years to come, and it’s absolutely vital that we get this right from the outset.
“Removing this link is about ensuring that we’ve left no stone unturned when it comes to working with our Scottish counterparts to find a solution that will best serve the great people of Scotland.”
The latest alterations to HS2 follow the scrapping of the eastern leg of the project to Leeds which was announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps six months ago.
Labour leader Keir Starmer previously accused the government of “betraying the north” and said the levelling-up agenda was “just a slogan”.
The Independent has reported on concerns that the government is to offer the north and Midlands a cut-price “bare minimum” of railway upgrades.
In their joint statement, the three railway industry bodies said: “It is hugely disappointing to discover that, on a day when much political attention was focused elsewhere, the government confirmed that the Golborne link is to be removed from the HS2 project.
“Only six months ago, the Golborne link was included in the Integrated Rail Plan, as well as the HS2 Phase 2b Bill.
“The link has been provided for in the budget for HS2 and is needed to allow adequate capacity on the national rail network to fulfil its vital function of handling the nation’s longer-distance movements of both passengers and freight.
“Without this connection, a bottleneck will be created north of Crewe on the West Coast Main Line, which in turn will negatively impact outcomes for passengers, decarbonisation and levelling up.”
The trio warned of “heightened uncertainty” for rail businesses working on HS2 and communities living near the planned line.
They went on: “Given the government has now decided that it does not wish to proceed with the Golborne link, it is absolutely essential it confirms as quickly as possible how ministers intend to protect the benefits of HS2 investment, and does so without delay.
“Such an important, strategic question of how HS2 services connect into Scotland cannot be left open or uncertain.”
Construction on the Golborne link was due to start in the early 2030s, with the connection expected to open towards the end of that decade or in the early 2040s. Plans for the link faced fierce criticism from MPs, councillors and local residents.