High-speed rail link ‘essential for the economic upturn’

26 Aug 09
A planned high-speed rail link is essential for the economy to thrive after the recession, Network Rail has said
By Jaimie Kaffash

26 August 2009

A planned high-speed rail link is essential for the economy to thrive after the recession, Network Rail has said.

The agency, which operates and maintains Britain’s railway lines, has proposed a £34bn line linking London to Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland to ministers. According to Network Rail predictions, the current west coast line will reach capacity by 2020, by which time there will be no room for new services and demand will exceed volume. If it gets the go-ahead, the project will not be completed until 2020 at the earliest.

A spokeswoman for Network Rail told Public Finance: ‘We looked at what we could do to address that capacity problem. Rather than make further enhancements to the existing line, we believe that the right approach is to build a brand new line.

‘We believe this is value for money for the economy. It is something that needs to be done, not just to address problems on the rail, but wider economic benefits. Railway is so important for the economy and we have to plan not just for the next couple of years but for the next 20 to 30 years, for when the economy will bounce back. Planning for this and having it in place is essential for the economy to thrive,’ she said.

She added that there was wide political support in principle across both sides of the House of Commons for the project. ‘Where we are at the moment is quite unprecedented,’ she said.

The details of the project have received criticism from the Conservatives, however, for being too London-focused, but the spokeswoman added that, having reviewed the options, proposing other routes at this time ‘would have put a nail in the coffin for the business case’.

The move was welcomed by passenger groups. Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said: “Passengers will welcome this study as a further step on the long march to actually getting this new line built. Promises of quicker journeys between Great Britain's city centres will hopefully attract new passengers. This may also free up other lines allowing for additional services.’

He added that extra funding was essential and ‘passengers won’t want to see money taken from other areas of the railway to pay for this ambitious development’. He also urged ministers to continue efforts to stop overcrowding on existing routes.  

This announcement comes the week after the Reform think-tank published a report urging the government to put funding into improving the existing infrastructure. It said that, in the downturn, short-term schemes should be prioritised over long-term projects such as a high-speed rail line.

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