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17.03.14

Strong backing from DfT for Higgins HS2 proposals

Reaction to Sir David Higgins’ report, HS2 Plus, has been mixed with many applauding his recommendations to try to streamline the project processes – but it has done nothing to placate the project’s many fierce opponents, who continue to claim it is a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.

RTM attended the report’s launch in Manchester this morning, after which we talked to Sir David. He said a national “integrated plan” would be vital to the success of the project and bring “vast benefits” to the north of England.

He also stated that after doing comparative estimates – with other projects like HS1 – HS2 was on budget (£42.6bn including contingency).

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has now said the government strongly supports Sir David’s report.

“HS2 is vital for the economic health of this country and our international competitiveness,” said McLoughlin. “Sir David has carried out a robust and rigorous review of the cost estimates for constructing Phase One and confirmed they are right. He proposes to use any savings to protect the contingency at this early stage in the parliamentary process and the project as a whole. The government supports that.”

The report also sets out a clear proposal to accelerate construction so that the Crewe section of Phase Two would be completed by 2027, not 2033, and to build a new integrated hub station at Crewe.

Following this recommendation, the transport secretary has stated that he is commissioning HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to undertake work to allow both these proposals to be considered in detail.

Network Rail, where Sir David used to be the chief executive, added that the HS2 deliverability review was a clear statement of the “benefits an integrated approach could deliver for passengers, freight users and local communities”.

Paul Plummer, Network Rail group strategy director, said: “HS2 will sit at the heart of Britain’s transport network, allowing us to reshape the railway in a way that incremental improvements simply cannot. That’s why we welcome the report’s recommendations and its call for an integrated approach to planning and operating the railway.

“The timetables that might operate are by no means fixed and we will soon announce a programme of engagement with passengers and stakeholders, both inside and outside the industry, to seek their views on what should be prioritised as we start to plan future services.”

However, Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said the government is “deluding itself” if it thinks spending vast sums of taxpayers’ money on this “white elephant” is a substitute for a genuine plan for growth. He added that the HS2 business case isn’t credible and ministers aren’t being honest about the hidden costs or flawed projections that the project is based on.

Joe Rukin, campaign coordinator for Stop HS2, who was on the doorstep of Manchester Town Hall, where Sir David launched his report, stated that if something is good it shouldn’t need to be launched six or seven times. “This is all the report is doing,” he said. “The reality is that HS2 is a huge white elephant.”

Other positive messages have been received by RTM, for example the Rail Freight Group (RFG) has welcomed the publication “as a step forward for rail freight”.

RFG, which is a committed supporter of HS2, noted that there had been concerns over the practical delivery of benefits for rail freight, many of which were addressed in today’s report.

Maggie Simpson, RFG executive director, said: “Efficiently delivering goods to and from the major conurbations of the UK is economically vital. HS2, if fully integrated with the existing network, will deliver significant benefits through a greater use of rail freight. We are pleased that David Higgins has listened to the concerns of the freight sector and is proposing changes to the project that address some of our key concerns.”

Commenting on Sir David’s proposals for a new transport hub in Crewe, Duncan Symonds, head of infrastructure at consultancy WSP, said that there is the bonus for freight of diverting high speed trains away from the congested Lichfield to Crewe section of the West Coast Main Line. To maximise potential local plans for development around the hub and regional transport links would need to be expedited.

“Redeveloping Euston is also an obvious win – there are many examples of improved transport infrastructure unlocking wider economic and social benefits, you just have to look at Kings Cross and London Bridge Quarter to see the impact it can have,” he said. “The issue of the HS1 link is slightly trickier. We can see the benefits of a link but more analysis is needed into whether there will be the demand to warrant and sustain it, and how international passport control facilities would be incorporated into current designs. We’ll be watching this issue develop with interest because from our internal debates on the matter it’s clear that there are a number of extremely complex issues to be balanced and addressed.”

Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, which speaks on behalf of the rail industry, added that HS2 “must become the backbone of a growing railway so that Britain can meet the challenge of booming demand for extra passenger and freight services that it faces now and in the future”.

Sir David also added that HS2 is a project that will be built over many parliaments and will serve people for many generations. Therefore, it must be designed and build correctly to ensure the greatest benefits for the country.

Full coverage from the launch, our interview with Higgins and analysis of his recommendations will be in the upcoming April/May 2014 edition of RTM. Subscribe at www.railtechnologymagazine.com/Subscribe

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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