Government approves high-speed rail line

10 Jan 12
Transport Secretary Justine Greening today confirmed that the government will go ahead with a £32.7bn high-speed rail line linking London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.
By Richard Johnstone | 10 January 2012

Transport Secretary Justine Greening today confirmed that the government will go ahead with a £32.7bn high-speed rail line linking London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

The announcement follows a consultation into the controversial proposal last year, which has been opposed by some campaigners due to the cost and environmental impact.

Greening said that she had decided ‘Britain should embark upon the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways’ because the new line would provide ‘the groundwork for long-term, sustainable economic growth’.

The first stage of the line, covering 140 kilometres between London and Birmingham, will open in 2026, and will cost around £16.3bn. It will be followed, in 2032/33, by the second stage to Manchester and Leeds, and a connection to Heathrow Airport.

Greening said the government was ‘committed to developing a network with the lowest feasible impacts on local communities and the natural environment’. She announced a number of changes to the route following the consultation, which will mean that more than half the line will now be disguised by tunnels or covered by land banks. This will include the area around the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which campaigners had said would be damaged.

The decision also confirmed that the new line would link to parts of the existing railway network, allowing trains to run direct to cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Greening said this would make rail more attractive to those currently flying or driving, meaning the plan was ‘an important part of transport’s low-carbon future’.

The faster journeys, bringing Birmingham within 49 minutes of London, and Edinburgh and Glasgow within 3 hours 30 minutes, could transfer around 4.5 million journeys per year from air and 9 million from the roads, she said.

The documents supporting Greening’s decision state that the completed line will generate economic benefits of up to £47bn and fare revenues of up to £34bn over a 60-year period.

The ratio of the economic benefit of the project to the cost for the whole line is estimated at between 1.8 and 2.5. The ratio for the line to Birmingham is now set at 1.6, which has been revised down from last February's estimate of 2.0.

The Campaign for High Speed Rail group of businesses said that the announcement would deliver ‘more trains, more jobs and more growth’.
Spokeswoman Lucy James added: ‘Today’s announcement shows that the principle of high-speed rail has been clearly established. It is time to put the arguments behind us so we can focus on how to make the most out of this exciting infrastructure investment.’

Lord Adonis, the former Labour transport secretary who first announced plans for the line in March 2010, said: ‘I very much welcome the news that the government is to go ahead with high-speed rail. It is now very important that the implementation of the project proceeds rapidly. After two years of consultations, the time for action has now come.’

The CBI also lent its support, with director general John Cridland saying that the nation must ‘plan for the infrastructure which the next generation will need’.

However, the Centre for Economics and Business Research said that
the sums don't add up’.

Chief executive Douglas McWilliams said the CEBR’s analysis showed thatpotential alternatives, including improvements to current lines, could provide enough rail capacity.

There are ‘many elements in the official economic case that look dubious’, he added.

‘Our analysis is that the benefit:cost ratio is only 0.5 rather than the official and implausible 2.0. The financial deficit, which will require a government subsidy, is likely to be £18bn rather than the official claim of £14bn.

‘This seems a major waste of money when spending is being cut and taxes raised.’


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