Transport Secretary Philip Hammond told a packed Fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference that the alternative to HS2 was a red herring.
Mr Hammond told the audience at the Transport Times event last night (October 3) that the West Coast Main Line was ‘all but out of capacity’
“The growth we are seeing cannot be accommodated with expansion (of the existing network)” he said.
Mr Hammond added that alternatives suggested by opponents, such as Rail Package 2 and the recently-added RP2+, had not calculated costs for reliability or resilience.
“The evidence does not support that you can accommodate rail growth – This is a red herring,” Mr Hammond told Jerry Marshall from HS2 opponents AGHAST.
Mr Hammond said HS2 was vital to the UK regions.
“If we neglect our transport infrastructure, we neglect the competitiveness of our economy,” he said.
The room was crowded, mainly with those supporting High Speed Rail, but there were opponents eager to put their case including Mr Marshall and a councillor from north London.
Mr Hammond said HS2 would allow ‘a levelling of the playing field, away from London and the South East.’
“All of our nation must be able to contribute otherwise we are tackling the world with one hand tied behind our back,” he said.
He said transport infrastructure was needed to bring investment:
“The Victorians built the rail network and did a great job, but our rail structure reflects the commerce and travel patterns of 150 years ago not the 21st century.”
He said that HS2 was not all about speed, despite what was being written and discussed.
“Between London and Birmingham/Manchester it’s all about capacity. The alternative (if we don’t build HS2) is pricing people off our railways. And not being able to accommodate freight,’ he added.
He was asked why work could not begin in the north and south and meet in the middle.
He explained that the business case built as the line headed north. He said the funding for HS2 (around £2bn per annum) would be diverted from the completion of the Crossrail project.
Finally, Mr Hammond asked Tom McCarthy, managing director of Bechtel, to sum up his thoughts on the West Coast Main Line.
“It’s at its technical limit,’ he said.