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17.07.15

Higgins: north-south transport divide a ‘disgrace’

Sir David Higgins claimed the north has been “shortchanged and taken for granted” in its transport services.

He compared the north-south transport disparity to the differences between west and east London where people are expected to “put up with” injustices in a blatant example of “national disgrace”.

The chair of HS2 Ltd said in an interview with the Guardian: “I look at expenditure per head, the pass-me-down process – the offcuts from rolling stock always end up in the north. Two hours from Birmingham to Leeds on a chugger, old crappy trains on poor railway lines.

“We would not accept that from London to Swindon, and we don’t: we insist on a huge amount of money going into commuter services.”

He said northerners have been “taken for granted”, calling the lack of investment in transport a “disgrace” resulting in a divided country.

He referred to HS2, whose first phase runs from London to Birmingham and the second phase of which carries on up to Manchester, the east Midlands and Leeds, as an attempt to remediate this divide.

Higgins claimed people are “beating up on the railways”, and suggested it was a mistake to try to upgrade London Bridge with so many passengers still trying to use it every day. He said: “The grim reality of what we should say to people is, don’t use it. Stay away, make other plans.”

HS2 itself retains solid political backing in Midland and northern cities, Sir David said: “Labour local authorities are 100% behind this. They realise how critical it is for skills and jobs in the north.”

He added that local authorities had also backed the decision to recommend that the HS2 east Midlands hub be located at Toton and praised “local ownership” as an important asset to the construction, emphasising that it is “essential this project is bipartisan”.

Speaking of the “pause” in the electrification of the Midland Main Line and TransPennine route, he said the scope had been “very much in flux”.

He blamed the change in status of Network Rail to be an official part of the public sector and especially its massive debt pile. He said: “Once it [the debt] came on balance sheet all that flexibility’s gone. That’s the most fundamental change. That’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just a change the ONS [Office for National Statistics] in its great wisdom came out with.”

Yet Higgins insisted that HS2 would not face similar problems, as an entirely new railway – many of the current problems arising from upgrading complex, busy, live railway lines. “[With HS2] you know exactly what’s [there] and you’ve got 24-hour access. Upgrading these existing assets is nightmarishly difficult,” he said.

Though HS2’s £50bn budget is still on target, he said the second phase was “less certain in terms of design, and even the final route hasn’t been determined”.

In the interview Higgins spoke highly of other infrastructure projects nationwide, calling HS2 a part of a broader strategy.

“HS2, Crossrail, HS3, the substantial investment in ground support and transport for a third runway at Heathrow, the highways programme, the National Grid, nuclear power stations. It’s going to happen. It’s not a question of will we, won’t we,” he said.

Comments

Lutz   17/07/2015 at 11:08

That looks like a resignation letter. He is clearly grabbing at the headlines and is not looking the data or reasons for the current status. Making such statements based on superficial analysis renders Higgins unsuitable for his current position.

Simon J   17/07/2015 at 12:45

We said Sir David and whilst HS2 is a part of the cure it is not a universal panacea, the continued need to lease clapped out 'Pacer' trains versus the lack of investment in any new DMU is particularly noticeable except for the few Trans Penine Desiro's, the Voyagers and their dervatives are truly horrible as a travelling environment and unsuitable for most types of journey anyway whilst the 15X and 17X DMU's are now closer to their half century than being new. The IEP is a DfT waste of money as well.

Not So Good Down Here   17/07/2015 at 13:38

Birmingham-Leeds 110 miles. It's not uncompetitive. Bournemouth-London 100 miles. That takes one hour 50 minutes on the SW Trains "fast" train. 2 hours 30 on the slow. Bracknell to London 30 miles. Fastest train is 1 hour (yes one hour). Day return (peak) £25. And you pay £21 (peak) for a day-return from Basingstoke to Woking. That's a whopping 29 miles. Compare that to Leeds-Manchester 50 miles. £13 day return. Our services are slow and/or expensive in the lucky South. And HS2 doesn't make sense to me when you read http://www.highspeeduk.co.uk/hsuk%20sysmap.html It's pretty tragic down here too.

Geordie   17/07/2015 at 18:17

"Even the final route has not been determined" Why not? Surely the millions of householders who could suffer because of this nonsense vanity project should be told as early as possible . Either finalise a route and stick to it, or do everyone a favour, and scrap the project altogether

John   18/07/2015 at 07:56

What he isn't saying is that his buddy McLoughlin has dumped all over real Customer improvement schemes, such as MML Electrification, in favour of the Consultants and Lawyers goldmine, HS2! The longer this drags on, the worse it all looks. We need a new and focussed Transport Minister who frankly has the balls to fire the lot of 'em, tear it up and deal with the priorities - filthy dirty and clapped out rolling stock and their owners, replacing track and electriification of key routes, some of the bus companies and their "boy wonder" management structures! The Business case for HS2 has never been properly made. The "£59BN Costs" have never been discussed in detail to reveal all the consultancies' slush funds and to simply base it on a wish that we will be forced to pay twice as much as now to get to - Euston - with a walk to St Pancras to get an HS1 train (owned by the French) to Brussels, Paris or wherever!!!! It's all utter Nonsense!

It's Great Up North   07/08/2015 at 13:27

Not So Good Down Here, a peak return Leeds to Manchester is £21, not £13. Apples and oranges and all that...are you a politician? But, you are right, it is not so good down there ;)

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