Posted 1st November 2011 | 15 Comments
Labour's new HS2 fails to impress supporters or critics
THE LABOUR PARTY has outlined an alternative route for HS2 which runs via Heathrow airport and also follows the corridors of the Chiltern main line and the M40 motorway, but the plan has received a cautious reception.
The new route for a High Speed line between London and Birmingham was presented by shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle to the Airport Operators' Association.
Ms Eagle said it would be a 'huge mistake' if HS2 did not run directly via Heathrow. She had taken in account 'some of the objections and concerns' raised by opponents to the project, most of whom live close to the proposed line. There would be more sections in tunnel, both in the north western London suburbs and also in the Chilterns, where some of the fiercest opposition is based.
However, the new route would be closer to Princes Risborough, Bicester and Banbury. Further north, the alignment on the approaches to Birmingham could follow the current official route from Leamington Spa, or instead go south of Warwick.
Ms Eagle conceded that Labour's original plan for HS2 had contained some flaws.
She said: "I don't think we got everything right in our original proposal when we were in government and having had a close look at it over the last year as part of our policy review we think that connecting via Heathrow and using existing transport corridors means that we're going to get to Birmingham in a more sensible way.
"It might be two or three minutes slower on a non-stopping service but it avoids going through areas of outstanding natural beauty and joins up better with our other transport networks.
"It seems mad not to take your High Speed train though your hub airport at the earliest opportunity – that's the lesson of High Speed in [continental] Europe."
The government has poured cold water on Labour's change of heart, with transport minister Theresa Villiers accusing the party of being 'opportunistic' and "doing nothing to contribute to the detailed, informed and extensive process that the government is undertaking on HS2".
She added: "Labour have had nine months to say something constructive on HS2 but instead have waited till the consultation has ended to oppose the government's preferred route – which they originally came up with. Labour are playing politics with HS2 and the people who strongly support the project around the country will not thank them for this irresponsible attitude."
Those who have been fighting the plans were also unimpressed, with Stop HS2 describing the new plans as 'bizarre'.
Spokesman Joe Rukin said the rethink was too late, and did not in any case deal with their concerns. He added: "We cannot understand this obsession with High Speed rail and connecting airports."
One industry source told Railnews: "This is basically the Arup route that they have been touting for the last three years. It has been assessed by HS2 Ltd and rejected.
"If there is a station at Heathrow, there is the problem that either all trains stop (in which case the route is clearly slower than the HS2 Ltd scheme) or it needs to be able to handle non-stop and stopping trains.
"There is simply no reason to pick a lengthier, slower route with more tunnels, routed across the Chilterns closer to greater population centres."
Dan Large, a spokesman for the Campaign for High Speed Rail, is dubious about the revised plans as well. He said: "We are pleased that Labour are maintaining their support for a new High Speed line. However, this newly proposed route raises some fundamental questions.
"What is the additional cost of tunnelling out of central London and under the Chilterns? By how much time with this lengthen the construction process? What will the combined cost of this be to the business case, which will presumably be weakened?
"The new route is not as straight as the old route, which will have an impact on the line speed. How much will this reduce the speed of the line? What impact will this have for return on investment in expensive rolling stock? How many services an hour will be lost as a result of the curvature of the new route?
"The new route still cuts across a lot of countryside – it does not simply follow the M40. What impact will this new route have?"
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