HIGH SPEED2 RAIL: LABOUR

Example of High Speed Rail Track Photo: www.hs2.org.uk

Example of High Speed Rail Track Photo: http://www.hs2.org.uk

Earlier this month I wrote about the British government’s plans for a new HS2 high speed rail service in England. The first stretch would be between London Euston and Birmingham. Future development by 2033 would provide for two branches, one heading towards Manchester, the other an East Midlands hub through Nottingham to Leeds. The trains would operate at speeds up to 250mph. The estimated cost is £42.6 billion. Consultation on phase two began in July and is open for submissions until the end of January 2014.

HS2 Route through Parliamentary Constituencies: BBC News

HS2 Route through Parliamentary Constituencies: BBC News

So is all this just a dream? It is apparent from this map produced by BBC News that the routes go through constituencies mainly represented by Conservative MPs, particularly in areas such as Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Political pressure is mounting on some of these Conservative MPs, who have indicated they might vote against the government’s bill when it reaches Parliament, including former Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan, Andrea Leadsom and Dan Byles.

Ed Balls MP (Labour Party)

Ed Balls MP (Labour Party)

Now BBC News reports that with so many Tory MPs opposed to the plan, it might need the support of Labour. After today, that cannot be guaranteed, according to Political Editor Nick Robinson. This is because Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls told the Labour Party conference in Brighton although the party still backed the idea of a new north-south rail link, it would cancel it if costs rise:-

Conference, we support investment in better transport links for the future. And we continue to back the idea of a new North-South rail link. But under this government the High Speed 2 project has been totally mismanaged and the costs have shot up to £50 billion. David Cameron and George Osborne have made clear they will go full steam ahead with this project – no matter how much the costs spiral up and up. They seem willing to put their own pride and vanity above best value for money for the taxpayer. Labour will not take this irresponsible approach. So let me be clear, in tough times – when there is less money around and a big deficit to get down – there will be no blank cheque from me as a Labour Chancellor for this project or for any project. Because the question is – not just whether a new High Speed line is a good idea or a bad idea, but whether it is the best way to spend £50 billion for the future of our country. And Conference, in tough times it’s even more important that all our policies and commitments are properly costed and funded.”

Supporters say the project will provide much needed extra rail capacity. The Labour leader of Manchester City Council criticised his party for raising doubts about its viability, accusing Mr Balls of a “cheap shot”. Sir Richard Leese said the high-speed line was “essential” to prevent the North and Midlands “slowly grinding to a halt”. “There are better ways for the shadow chancellor to demonstrate fiscal responsibility than take a cheap shot at HS2,” he added.

Earlier another of Labour’s frontbench team, shadow treasury chief secretary Rachel Reeves, said the party would cancel it “if we don’t think it’s good value for money and costs continue to rise”. The estimated cost of the plan has risen in the past few months from £34.2bn to £42.6bn – plus £7.5bn for rolling stock – and some senior Labour figures such as Lord Mandelson and Alistair Darling now oppose the project.

The Stop the HS2 campaign said Mr Balls was “dead right”, adding that it was “only the vanity of politicians which is keeping this white elephant on life support”.

Bob Crow RMT General Secretary Photo: RMT

Bob Crow RMT General Secretary Photo: RMT

But the RMT union general secretary Bob Crow said ditching HS2 would set back for a decade the modernisation of the railways. “Britain is already in the slow lane when it comes to the railways and RMT will fight any plans by Ed Balls and the political class to leave us stuck there,” he said.

A Department for Transport spokesman said HS2 was right for the future of the country and had the support of civic leaders across the North and Midlands. “HS2 will free up vital space on our railways for passengers and freight, generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and deliver better connections between our towns and cities,” a spokesman said.

While a “tight lid” must be kept on costs, the CBI urged politicians to focus on the big picture. “HS2 will connect eight of our 10 biggest cities, boost regeneration projects across the country for years to come, and will avert a looming capacity crunch on the West Coast Main Line,” it said.

BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott said it was a big shift in Labour’s stance. It meant the party would not commit to cancelling HS2 before the election, but would review it if they won. He said Labour would look at whether it was the best way to spend £50bn, or whether they should look at other options, like different routes or big improvements to existing lines.

HIGH SPEED2 RAIL

Shinkansen: Japanese Bullet Train at NRM York Photo: © Michael Fisher

Shinkansen: Japanese Bullet Train at NRM York Photo: © Michael Fisher

Looking at the Shinkansen Japanese Bullet Train during a visit to the National Railway Museum in York in June, I wondered if such a high-speed service was any nearer in England. The new version of the train runs at speeds of up to 200mph in Japan. The original track opened in 1964 between Tokyo and Osaka and is the world’s busiest high-speed line.

Interior Japanese Bullet Train at NRM York Photo: © Michael Fisher

Interior Japanese Bullet Train at NRM York Photo: © Michael Fisher

This is a “series O” train – serial number 22-141 – and was the first vehicle built and run outside the UK to be part of the museum’s collection. It began service in 1976 and was mothballed in October 2000 after more than 20 years of service on the 320-mile Tokyo to Osaka route. It was delivered to the NRM in June 2001.

HS2 Route Map: BBC News

HS2 Route Map: BBC News

Now the British government is planning a high-speed line in England HS2 which will initially run from London to Birmingham in a journey tie of less than 50 minutes, compared to the 75 minutes it currently takes from London Euston to Birmingham International on a Pendelino inter city express run by Virgin Trains. The initial plan is for a new line between London and the West Midlands, carrying 400m-long (1,300ft) trains, with up to 1,100 seats per train. They would operate at speeds of up to 250mph – faster than any current operating speed in Europe – and would travel up to fourteen times per hour in each direction.

There would be a second phase: a V-shaped route taking services from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds. Intermediate stations in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire are also planned (BBC News).

A new report by accountants KPMG says the HS2 rail project could boost the British economy by £15bn a year, with regions outside the capital being the biggest beneficiaries. But it says the economic boost will not be felt until 2037. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin presented the findings as he made the case for the new rail line.