Government confirms support for high-speed rail

A multi-billion pound high-speed rail project to link London with Birmingham and the North of England, will receive official backing, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has confirmed.

The Government will consult early next year on building a ‘Y’-shaped network with separate lines from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds. This option would provide high-speed services for the East Midlands and South Yorkshire as well as connecting to the existing West Coast and East Coast main lines that run north to Scotland.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Hammond said: "We have committed to a high speed rail network that will change the social and economic geography of Britain; connecting our great population centres and our international gateways; transforming the way Britain works as profoundly as the coming of the original railways did in the mid-19th century.

"So we will consult in the New Year on the strategic roll-out of a High Speed Rail network and on our preferred route for the first leg between London and Birmingham."

Hammond described the proposal as "a strategic project that will make rail the mode of choice for most inter-city journeys within the UK, and for many beyond."

The Transport Secretary has been considering advice from HS2 Ltd - the Government company set up to examine the case for high speed rail - on the relative benefits of the 'Y' route against a 'reverse S' shaped route from Birmingham to Manchester and then across the Pennines to Leeds. HS2 Ltd found that the Y network would deliver a total of £25 billion more benefits than the reverse S.

Work is currently underway to refine the preferred route. The Secretary of State will set out the Government’s final preferred route for consultation later this year.

HS2 Ltd developed detailed route proposals for a high speed rail line from London to Birmingham for the previous Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, who announced the then government's backing for the Y option in March.

In response to Hammond's speech, Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), said: "Investment in high speed rail has the potential to bring about significant benefits to passengers, the economy and the environment.

"The planning, construction and route of the new line must be market led to maximise the economic and environmental benefits and fully involve the private sector to keep down costs for the taxpayer.

"However, any money set aside for new high speed lines must allow appropriate investment in other rail projects to go ahead, to ensure that no part of the network is left behind."

The proposed route has attracted some opposition from those whose homes will be affected, particularly in the Chiltern Hills. Others have argued that the line should serve Heathrow Airport, though HS2 has produced detailed analysis supporting its preference for a connecting spur.

In addition, some commentators challenge the whole concept of high-speed rail on environmental grounds.


Related content:
High-speed rail proposals unveiled (11 March 2010)

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