Rail Industry Focus


Let's get on with it

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2019


Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, explains how the Oakervee Review was the wakeup call HS2 supporters needed. Now action must happen.

The autumn of 2019 will go down as one of the most tumultuous periods in political history. While unprecedented events in Westminster dominate the news agenda, the government’s HS2 review has risked slipping under the radar.

Oakervee has been a wakeup call to all of us who want to see HS2 delivered in full. It has galvanised the Midlands and the North to restate in the strongest terms how catastrophic the cancellation or de-scoping of the HS2 network would be for our regions.

It has allowed us to once more state our belief that, while costs may rise and regrettable delays may now be inevitable, the benefits of high speed rail to this country have been vastly underestimated, and it is incumbent on all supporters of HS2 to sell those benefits more clearly.

Midlands Connect used the review period as an opportunity to submit compelling new evidence to ensure Westminster fully understands the benefits of high speed rail to tens of millions of people living outside the South East.

For example, millions of people who may never set foot on an HS2 train will see improvements to their existing rail journeys once long distance journeys transfer to the high speed network, freeing up existing lines for more commuter and intercity services. Research we submitted to the Oakervee Review shows 73 locations could benefit from new services, more frequent services and less crowding; 54 of those locations are not on the HS2 network.

High speed rail will also reduce road congestion by transferring one million lorries’ worth of goods to the railway every year. These previously hidden benefits of HS2 are finally seeing the light.

Our Oakervee submission also includes Midlands Engine Rail (MER); our £3.5bn plan to deliver a step-change in east-west rail connectivity, fully integrated with HS2. MER includes seven region-wide projects, five of which utilise HS2’s released capacity, creating space for more than 700 extra trains every single day, serving 60 different stations across the Midlands and beyond.

One of those seven projects is a plan for conventional-compatible high speed trains to directly connect the city centres of Birmingham and Nottingham, and Leicester and Leeds via the East Midlands Hub at Toton, slashing journey times by more than half and boosting the economy by an estimated £1.4bn. HS2 is formally investigating our proposals, which have the potential to both reduce costs and bring more flexibility to the network.

MER has rightly received widespread support. The launch in September - at Bombardier’s global centre of excellence in Derby – was backed by civic and business leaders from across the region, as well as communities secretary and Midlands Engine ministerial champion Robert Jenrick MP, who said: “Bringing forward really high quality, high value-for-money proposals like this will make my case better as I battle for the Midlands in Westminster.”

Thankfully, more of HS2’s supporters are starting to focus on the tangible, but previously miscommunicated benefits of high speed rail. Midlands Connect’s submission to the Oakervee Review, and those of our partners - the West Midlands Combined Authority, East Midlands Councils and the Constellation Partnership – highlight the need for the seamless integration of HS2 with essential upgrades to the existing network. We must not be forced to choose one improvement over another.

Our position is clear: Midlands Engine Rail, with HS2 as its backbone, is technically feasible, financially viable and environmentally sustainable. The Midlands and the UK need both, just as we need Crossrail 1, Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail to future-proof our transport network for generations to come. While no HS2 supporter will deny that waiting longer for it to arrive is disappointing, this is a project we will all benefit from for the next hundred years and more. It’s well worth waiting for.

We have demonstrated to the Government and public just how much we need and will benefit from HS2. I have been buoyed by the spirit of collaboration amongst business and civic leaders in their approach to that objective during the HS2 review. We have met with Douglas Oakervee in the West Midlands and the East Midlands, and our region’s submissions will rightly be foremost in his mind as he considers his recommendations to Government.

It is impossible to predict how far the political tectonic plates may have shifted and moved by the time this article is published, and it is possible that Oakervee’s recommendations will already be public. I won’t pre-empt that outcome, except to reiterate that cancelling or de-scoping HS2 would be a disaster for our region, and we must do all we can to avert it.

The 22nd century will thank us for it.


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