The appointment of a director general to an expanded HS2 Ltd, investment in London Underground developments at Battersea and the Olympic Park and the two year extension of the Virgin Trains contract on the West Coast spells out a further statement of faith in railways.
The industry, which consistently outperforms its rivals in terms of cost, wealth generation and environmental responsibility, is poised for further much needed expansion next year.
Strengthening HS2 Ltd as it ramps up preparations for the construction of Britain’s second high speed rail link will be David Prout. Immediate tasks include preparing a hybrid bill for the first part of the project.
Secondly, Mr Prout and his team will be taking forward George Osborne’s pledge, announced in the House of Commons, to take the line through to Manchester and Leeds expeditiously.
Building new railways in Britain is a tough remit. The engineering challenge is secondary to the planning hoops and slip-knot reviews common to all major projects. Happily the new Director General has a wealth of experience of Britain’s labyrinthine planning and environmental laws.
Mr Prout currently heads the Department of Communities and Local Government. Previously he was planning chief for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. A career civil servant Prout has worked in Brussels for the European Union. His first hand knowledge of the inner workings of government and enthusiasm for the scheme will directly benefit HS2.
‘Making HS2 a reality is absolutely crucial to our country’s future prosperity and I am very pleased to have been asked to take leadership of this much-needed programme at this time,’ says David Prout.
‘I look forward to helping to take the project through Parliament and continuing to demonstrate the very real need for more capacity for people and freight on our railways, which will help make Britain a more prosperous and less congested country.’
Teams at HS2 are progressing design and environmental work for Phase One. The race is on to present a hybrid bill to parliament during 2013. With expected cross party support this looks like receiving Royal Assent in 2015. The bill will request powers necessary to acquire land and construct the line between London and Birmingham.
To cope with the burgeoning popularity of rail travel the DfT has extended the Virgin Trains WCML contract for a further two years. An expanded Pendolino fleet and an hourly service between Glasgow and London will boost capacity on the line.
106 Pendolino carriages have been delivered on budget and ahead of schedule thanks to hard working railway staff at Alstom, Angel Trains, Network Rail, the DfT and Virgin Trains.
In London news of the go ahead for the Battersea extension came as Crossrail stepped up tunnelling under the capital. The Battersea project involves substantial redevelopment around the old power station and the extension of the Northern Line to Nine Elms and Battersea.
Capacity expansion has caught the attention of the government which has identified railways as reliable pilots of economic and industrial dynamism. As the Coalition Government contemplates further cuts to public services and welfare, investment in rail is being stepped up in a bid to generate wealth and jobs. Confidence in the recession busting rail industry remains high.