HS2 attack was incorrect
Alan Marshall responds to Cheryl Gillan’s criticism of HS2……
Cheryl Gillan’s rant in the Sunday Telegraph is quite without justification — and factually incorrect.
She claims HS2 is a “Labour-initiated folly.” But she should know better! The whole idea of developing a High Speed Rail route to the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds started with . . . the CONSERVATIVES, promoted by Theresa Villiers when she was the Tories’ front-bench shadow transport secretary.
Nor did Ms Villiers propose to “rejuvenate our railways with high-speed links” — as Cheryl Gillan claimed in the Sunday Telegraph.
HS2 was Tory policy
What Theresa Villiers proposed was a completely new High Speed line leaving London, via Heathrow, to Birmingham and going on to Manchester and across the Pennines to Leeds. This became known as the “reverse S” network and remained Tory policy until the 2010 general election.
The Liberal Democrats also gave general support to development of High Speed Rail — but not in the very specific way promoted by the Conservatives.
Labour came late to supporting the concept of High Speed Rail, and then only when Lord Andrew Adonis (who understands railways) first because Transport Minister, and later Transport Secretary, and set up HS2 Ltd to examine options for a north-south HSR system.
In early 2010, this resulted in proposals for HS2 to be built in two stages — with a direct route from London to the West Midlands and, in stage two, to complete a Y network with extensions to Manchester and the North West and Leeds and the North East.
The HS2 Ltd plan was at odds with the original ‘reverse S’ scheme proposed by Theresa Villiers, including not going via Heathrow. But after the 2010 general election, and careful assessment of the alternatives, the coalition government — including Cheryl Gillan, who was then in the Cabinet as Welsh Secretary — adopted the principle of the Y network instead of the ‘reverse S.’ It was announced by Philip Hammond, who was then Transport Secretary with Ms Villiers as his deputy, at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in October 2010.
After public consultation during 2011 Justine Greening, who had by then become Transport Secretary, confirmed the first stage of the route — which will form the basis of a hybrid bill to be introduced in Parliament later in 2013 — a year ago, including an added link across north London between HS2 and HS1, and a spur to Heathrow to be included in stage two.
Cheryl Gillan also claimed in the Sunday Telegraph that “Labour barely electrified a single additional mile of rail, and came up with the idea of HS2 to ‘fill the gap’.”
In part this is correct — during Tony Blair’s government only 9 miles of single track between Kidsgrove and Crewe were electrified.
Lord Adonis and HS2
But when Lord Adonis was Transport Secretary (and Gordon Brown was Prime Minister) approval was given to electrify key regional routes in the North West and on the Great Western Main Line from London to Newbury, Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff . . . since extended to Swansea after a campaign in South Wales supported by Cheryl Gillan when she was Welsh Secretary.
Ms Gillan claims HS2 will fail to connect with HS1 and its access to Europe. But this is part of the scheme agreed by Justine Greening a year ago.
Ms Gillan also claims that “we already have a long-established railway system, along existing transport corridors: it would benefit greatly from more investment, rather than diverting money to the excessive expense of creating a whole new railway system.”
But she totally overlooks that huge levels of investment are being committed to improving and enhancing the existing network — over £37 billion, announced today in the rail industry’s Strategic Business Plan for 2014-19.
Huge capacity constraints
Network Rail says that investment includes making a start on constructing HS2 before 2019 “to relieve the huge capacity constraints on the West Coast Main Line.”
But most of the £37 billion planned spending will be on the existing network, giving the lie to the claim that going ahead with HS2 will divert investment away from the classic system. Indeed, the total expenditure planned on the existing network in five years between 2014 and 2019 will be at least as much as is planned to be spent on constructing HS2 over 15 years!
Incidentally, Ms Gillan claims that “electrification of the London to Swansea line by 2017 will bring economic benefits at a fraction of the price of HS2.” However, she is overlooking the huge cost of building and operating a new fleet of Intercity Express trains, new maintenance depots, and renewing all the signalling along the route — and the £900 million reconstruction of the station and track layout at Reading, the Great Western’s route’s major bottleneck and cause of congestion and unreliability today.
Current reports also suggest that the electrification project may now cost as much as £7 billion – seven times it is original estimate — and in Bath there is growing opposition to the erection of any overhead electrification equipment through the heritage area of that city!
If and when Great Western electrification is completed it will only allow journey times to be reduced back to those that originally applied when British Rail introduced the 125mph diesel High Speed Train service in 1976 — 37 years ago. Since privatization in 1997, Great Western Main Line journey times have been extended considerably as additional station stops have been included to meet the widespread growing demand for rail travel.