Wednesday, 9 September 2009

High Speed Rail - the new consensus in politics

The Tories confirmed their commitment to a high speed line at today's High Speed Rail Summit.

Theresa Villiers said:

If we are elected, our plans for a new line to Manchester and Leeds will go ahead. We have carefully costed our proposal. We are confident that it’s workable and that it’s affordable. We stick by our commitment. We will deliver on it.

And on this project as in all our endeavours if we are elected to serve this country as its Government value for money will be a guiding principle.

To those who say it makes no sense to embark on this great task, given the state of the public finances, I have four points to make.

Firstly even with the most optimistic forecasts the planning and preparation needed is likely to take at least 4 to 5 years so the major spend is unlikely to begin before 2015.

Secondly, however great the efforts we make, the period of construction will inevitably be a long one. So the taxpayer’s contribution will be stretched over the 12 years it would take to deliver the complete line up to Manchester and Leeds relieving the pressure on budgets in individual years.

Thirdly every credible study indicates that the West Coast Main Line will be full, some time between 2015 and 2020. Expecting aviation or our congested motorways to meet the resulting capacity pressure is neither practical nor environmentally acceptable.

Given the lead times involved in building new railways, we can no longer put off the decision on a new line. Within ten years, extra capacity on the West Coast corridor will not be a “nice to have luxury” it will be a pressing necessity. It would be hugely short sighted to embark on a new conventional line when the cost uplift for high speed rail is probably 30% at most.

And fourthly and finally study after study shows that over time high speed rail will pay for itself not least the report published by Network Rail just a few weeks ago.

So twelve years before its complete with planning/preparation beginning in 2010/11 and construction to start in 2015ish - 'value for money' allowing.

Expect a continuing role for My Lord Adonis after the General Election judging by this in the same speech...

I welcome the establishment of the HS2 company. I should make it clear that I am grateful both to Sir David Rowlands for keeping me so well informed on its work and to the Secretary of State for not just permitting but actively encouraging him to do so.

Is it possible? Can it be?

Is there the very real danger that High Speed Rail is the new political consensus?