At the beginning of March, an Anglo-American collaboration known as Direct City Networks (DCN) tabled a hugely ambitious proposal: to build the world’s fastest underground transit system across the north of the UK, effectively creating a “super-city’” with an end-to-end journey time of 29 minutes between Liverpool and Hull.
The DCN300+ would slash journey times between Liverpool and Manchester from 45 minutes to just seven, and Manchester to Leeds in just nine minutes.
This would be possible by using a Maglev (magnetic levitation) system where vehicles hover above tracks and are propelled by electrically charged magnets, enabling speeds of over 350mph.
Maglev was originally invented in the UK in the 1970s, but the technology hasn’t been implemented in its country of origin since the construction of the maglev rail link at Birmingham Airport in the 1980s, which closed in 1995. Other countries have picked up the maglev baton since then; China has been running these advanced trains for over 10 years, while Japan recently broke the world speed record of just over 373mph during a track test.
A step-change for passenger and freight transport
“The core technologies used in transport today, whether by road, rail, sea or air, are at least 100 years old, yet we live in an age when rapid change has become the norm and societies are being transformed across the globe by the application of new technologies,” DCN says on its website.
“It is no longer realistic to tackle challenges of transport overcrowding, reliability and efficiency by tinkering with Victorian technologies, squeezing marginal gains for passengers and shippers at enormous financial cost. The UK now needs a step-change for passenger and freight transport.”
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The company, which in the past has worked with the team behind the Hyperloop One project, is proposing an underground network built in small tunnels, connecting the four city centres of Liverpool, Manchester, Hull and Leeds.
DCN’s preliminary business case focuses on the Manchester to Leeds route, where pods could leave every 60 to 90 seconds. Initial estimations put the construction costs of this line at anywhere between £2.2bn and £3.7bn.
Inside the carriages, train windows would be replaced with TV screens that would project “the normal above ground view whilst travelling underground”.
The possibility of an overnight freight service along the route was also taken into account, with DCN proposing up to 1,000 full-size shipping containers to be carried every day at slower speeds.
Future possibilities for a northern maglev network
The futuristic underground line could link to HS2 in the future, creating a highly interconnected business and tourism hub – effectively a “super-city economy for nine million people”.
Considering that 6,000 passengers would be travelling every hour at an average ticket fare of £6.54, DCN argues that the tube system would bring in considerable revenues, as well as £1.1bn in additional foreign investment per year, and a total GDP injection of £1.3bn annually.
This is not the first time a modern maglev system has been proposed in the UK. In 2008, the UK Ultraspeed project pushed for a £30bn Anglo-Scottish maglev system between London and Glasgow, as an alternative to HS2.
According to the Liverpool Echo, DCN’s plan has been submitted to the government and is “being considered” by transport bosses.
A spokesperson for Transport for the North said in a statement: “We have responded to DCN, highlighting several areas where we think substantive additional development work would be needed before any proposal could be given more detailed consideration.”
The company is expected to publish a more detailed account of the plan in the near future. Only time will tell if this proposal can build the momentum it needs to become a reality, but DCN has certainly tabled one of the most exciting plans for rail connectivity in the North for a long time.
“DCN300+ could transform the economic geography of Northern England,” the company says, “ultimately creating one business district stretching for passengers travelling from coast to coast or between cities.”