Posted 12th March 2010 | 3 Comments

Widespread welcome for High Speed rail plan

Part of a future High Speed line? This section of disused railway between Kenilworth and Berkswell in the West Midlands is on the proposed route

Part of a future High Speed line? This section of disused railway between Kenilworth and Berkswell in the West Midlands is on the proposed route

THERE has been a widespread welcome for the announcement of a 540km High Speed rail network by the transport secretary Andrew Adonis, but there have been renewed calls for the major Scottish cities to be included in the High Speed plans as soon as possible.

Even so, the campaigning group Transform Scotland said the initial route between London and Birmingham would still bring benefits much further north.

Paul Tetlaw, who chairs Transform Scotland, said: “Scotland should be served by High Speed rail services and we believe a High Speed line south of Birmingham brings that prospect closer. Across Europe, stretches of high speed line have been built to improve overall journey times but the trains run partly on these new  lines and partly on conventional lines, which allows them to easily access city centres. So even a line from London to Birmingham will help Scotland in that it may take 30 minutes off the overall journey time from Scotland to London. Another benefit to Scotland of a new line south of Birmingham is that it would free up capacity on the traditional lines.”

Another campaigning group, Greengauge21, has been developing High Speed plans and lobbying the Government for a number of years. Greengauge21 director Jim Steer said: “This is a huge step forward for Government and an important step for the nation in the development of a national transport network suitable for the 21st century. We applaud Lord Adonis’s leadership in developing a strong case for High Speed rail in Britain and for understanding what a significant difference it can make to our economic competitiveness. Now is the time for well-considered and informed debate on the implications of these plans.”

The chief executive of Passenger Focus, Anthony Smith, said the prospect of new investment rather than funds diverted from other railway projects was particularly important: “Passenger Focus welcomes the commitment that the new line will be an addition to the current network – not a bolt on, rich man’s railway. The ability to turn up and travel remains a key attraction of Britain’s railway – this new line, with fast frequent services could, with attractive fares, start to revolutionise intercity rail travel. The other commitment, that funding will not be diverted from the existing network, is also welcome.”

Birmingham will be the first provincial city to benefit from High Speed rail, and the plans include a city centre station near Curzon Street as well as a new hub serving Birmingham Airport and the National Exhibition Centre.

NEC group chief executive Paul Thandi said: “I am exceptionally pleased that Lord Adonis has recommended that a High Speed interchange be constructed around the NEC and the airport. With travel times from the capital reduced to around 30 minutes, this line would provide a vital link for many of our London and Internationally-based clients and visitors.”

But the Association of Train Operating Companies is warning that the plans must make financial sense. ATOC chief executive Michael Roberts said: “The Government’s announcement confirms rail as integral to the future success of the British economy, linking the nation’s major cities in a way which will transform how people get around the country. But this is just the start. Now the hard work must begin. We need to look through the detail of the plans and work out the best possible deal for passengers and taxpayers. At a time of constrained public finances and when investment in the existing network must continue, high speed rail must be affordable.”

He also voiced a plea for private sector involvement, saying: “Making the most of the role of the private sector will keep costs down for the taxpayer and draw on the considerable knowledge and experience of train companies in making sure high speed rail meets the needs of passengers and businesses.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • William Davison, Nottingham, UK

    What ever route the line takes land values and rents near the stations will raise as they have done with most rail schemes. But the rise in land values and rent will go to the developers and land owners, who have not paid for the line and not the tax payer who made it happen. If the UK had a Land Value Tax, the project (and many others) could proceed quickly as the increasing land values and rents would come back to tax payers from the LVT.

    To quote Winston Churchill, Edinburgh on July 17, 1909,

    "“Roads are made, streets are made, railway services are improved, electric light turns night into day, electric trams glide swiftly to and fro, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains — and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and at the cost of other people. Many of the most important are effected at the cost of the municipality and of the ratepayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced."

  • Mark Barry, Cardiff

    Whilst I support in principle the HS2 proposals published this week, I am concerned that there is nothing on the table for people in South Wales and South West England. HS3-WW should be on the agenda now for a number of good reasons:

    - The total Severnside population (ie Cardiff City Region, Bristol City Region and Swansea Bay) is ~3M and if the wider SW England is also included the population is >6M..... larger than Scotland and on a par with the "northern super city".

    - GWML electrification, whilst welcome, will only restore journey times between Bristol/Cardiff and London to what they were in the 1970s! (So Cardiff – London in 1hr 45m!)

    - The corridor west from London has not seen any major upgrade since the HST in the 1970s and in Wales not since the Severn Tunnel was opened in the 1880s...! In fact NR(and its predecessors) have consistently underinvested in Wales over decades.

    - The Greengauge21 economic case for HSR, based only upon electrification of the GWML to enable 200kph (i.e. 125mph!) running, would see the current proposed HSR network have a net detrimental impact on the economies of Wales and SW England! (Not really a vote winner in these parts!)

    - The position of the “Heathrow station” is not just about access to Heathrow from London/HS2 but, because of the interchange with GWML, about access for the >6M people down the M4 corridor who also have poor rail access to Heathrow. Notwithstanding the observations about the "dispersed location " of Heathrow, the ARUP Heathrow Hub site would suit travellers from the GWML far better than Old Oak Common.

    - Not having a direct link between HS1 and HS2 means there is nothing that improves access to HS1 services from Wales/SW England

    What I’d like to see is a more holistic national strategy for HSR and key interchanges, that provides a basis for the whole country to benefit. I am not sure I am happy to see my tax support a scheme, that in its current form, does nothing for >6M people like me in South Wales and SW England..

    However, given the straight, flat alignment of most of the GWML, I suspect , that for a considerably lower cost per mile than HS2 (and at a fraction of the total >£15Bn+ for just HS2 to Birmingham), this route could be upgraded to a much higher spec than 125 mph (with perhaps some new sections – eg over a Severn Barrage, Heathrow access, flyovers, etc) - and relatively quickly (given a GWML/SWML route upgrade will not have to deal with the planning minefield HS2 has to navigate).

    Given a tough financial climate post election, pressures on spending and the political will to deliver, a step change upgrade of the GWML/SWML to HS3-WW might actually be operational a long time before the first HS2 train leaves Euston.

  • Joel Kosminsky, London, Britain

    This must not be a blinkered approach - 'big picture' cost-benefit must be taken into account. More passengers are more activities at the destination, whether leisure or commerce. Servicing the new infrastructure will be new work and more money flowing in the economy. Looking purely at a return from operating the line is short-term and short-sighted.