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British businesses have the expertise to deliver HS2 – McLoughlin

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin sat down with RTM at yesterday’s HS2 Supply Chain Conference and discussed the role of the UK rail supply chain in delivering the project, the vital need for extra capacity, and the next steps in the parliamentary process.

The event, at the ICC in Birmingham, saw hundreds of businesses come together to hear more about the work available as part of HS2, the contract arrangements, how to get more involved and the technologies likely to make a big impact, such as BIM, off-site fabrication and 4D modelling.

In an interview with RTM before his keynote speech at the conference, McLoughlin said: “What’s encouraging about today – and I’m really pleased that [outgoing HS2 chairman] Doug Oakervee and others have organised it – is to give notice to business that this is going to be one of the largest infrastructure projects we’ve done in the UK for some considerable time.

“Particularly when you take the overall impact [into account], it’s fair to say that phase one of HS2 is just a little bit more expensive than Crossrail – the target price I’ve given for phase one is £17.6bn.

“It’s fantastic that we’ve got 800 businesses here, British businesses, wanting to be involved and wanting to see what opportunities there are for their companies. So those people who say ‘we haven’t got the expertise’, come here and look at this.”

The government is perceived by the national press to have shifted its core argument on HS2 from journey times to railway capacity.

But McLoughlin rejected that point, saying that capacity had always been an important part of the case for the project.

He told RTM: “I don’t think you’re going to do a major project like this and not have controversy. In fairness to Lord Adonis, when he launched HS2, he talked about capacity as well – but the media got more fixated on the speed than the whole story.

“I came up this morning from London, and the train was delayed because of a tragic incident at Stafford but also because of a freight train on the line slowing us down. I’m very pleased that we’re seeing more freight travelling by railway, 60% up in the last 10 years, that’s great news for the country, but we just don’t have the capacity to let that carrying on growing. We’ve got this problem where Virgin for instance wanted to run trains from Blackpool and Shrewsbury [direct to London] and they were told no [by the ORR], even after we spent £9bn upgrading the West Coast Main Line – but only north of Rugby.”

But McLoughlin refused to be drawn on the role the supply chain could play in speeding up the project, saying only: “The speed of delivery will be something that David Higgins will want to look at when he comes in as chairman.”

He added that he was “not allowed to give dates” for presenting the next stage of the HS2 legislation to Parliament, but said it would be before the end of the year, and added: “There is then a parliamentary process which does have to be gone through, but next year, we’re in 2014, and we want [phase one] completed in 2026. Twelve years is not a long time for big infrastructure projects like this.”

For more from the conference, see RTM’s coverage elsewhere at and the Dec/Jan 2014 edition of the magazine.

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