Committee report says good case exists for high-speed rail

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The Commons Transport Committee said today that a good case exists for a high-speed rail network linking London and cities in the Midlands, the north and Scotland.

Launching high-speed rail — the report of the inquiry into high-speed rail, including the government’s proposal for HS2 — committee chair Louise Ellman said: ‘A high-speed rail network, beginning with a line between London and the West Midlands, would provide a step change in the capacity, quality, reliability and frequency of rail services between our major cities.’

A second phase would see onward legs to Manchester and Leeds (the Y network) with connections to points further north via the existing East and West Coast main lines.

‘A high-speed line offers potential economic and strategic benefits which a conventional line does not, including a dramatic improvement in connectivity between our major cities, Heathrow and other airports, and the rest of Europe,’ she said.

She went on to claim that high-speed rail may be a catalyst for economic growth, stating it could help to ‘rebalance the economy and bridge the north-south divide’.

‘But the government must do more to promote local and regional growth strategies to ensure we get maximum economic benefit from high-speed rail,’ she said.

In its report, the committee said construction of a high-speed rail network should start with the line between London and the West Midlands but noted that under current plans high-speed rail lines won’t reach Manchester and Leeds for more than 20 years.

‘The government should also look at options to build southwards from the north and link to other lines such as the Midland Main Line,’ said Ellman.

Recommendations from the Transport Committee include government committing to the Y network before seeking parliamentary approval for HS2, and prioritisation for a full assessment of the case for building from north to south.

HS2 would cost approximately £2bn a year over 17 years and, on completion, would operate 18 trains per hour at 225mph.

The committee identified this as a risk factor for which more technical information should be published.

Chris Richards, transport policy advisor at the IET, said: ‘Some fundamental issues such as the track design speed have a knock-on effect in terms of noise and environmental mitigation, as well as route options.

‘In addition, the Transport Select Committee has accepted our view that the environmental case has not been proven, and recommends that HS2 should not be promoted as a carbon-reduction scheme.’