In a cheering display of seasonal unity major figures in the railways have lined up to back High Speed Two. The festive fanfare came as the government placed its ‘High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill’ before parliament.
The bill allows those on or near the line of route to see exactly how they will be affected. Around 23% of the line between London and the West Midlands will be in tunnels and around 32% lowered into the ground with cuttings. Landscaped earthworks and the planting of at least two million trees will further help to screen the railway and reduce train noise.
Speaking at an IOSH conference railway champion, Pete Waterman, said, ‘HS2 will suddenly change the map to give a railway that is interconnected in a way that our Victorian ancestors could never have imagined. The old railway companies did not want connectivity, they wanted people to travel on their lines. Well the map is about to be changed to suit the population, not the railways.’
Waterman called up the spirit of the Olympics and urged people to get behind the new railway. ‘We’ve seen what the Olympics has done for us. Let’s use the legacy of HS2 to make sure that our great-great grandchildren will look back and say that their great grandparents really did understand that capacity was needed for the next century.’
Local leaders are in the main right behind the project. Says Geoff Inskip, chief executive of the West Midlands PTE, Centro, ‘HS2 will deliver jobs and opportunities and address problems with capacity as demand for rail continues to soar. It will benefit people across our region and throughout the UK,’ he said.
A High Speed rail network
Mr Inskip’s views were echoed by union leaders concerned at the lack of capacity on Britain’s railways. Says Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, ‘We believe Britain needs not only a new high speed rail line but a high speed rail network. We would, ideally, like to see HS2 run the length of the United Kingdom, being built from Scotland and the south at the same time, meeting in the middle, linking HS1 and going via Heathrow.
‘While that is not what is on the table, and in the Bill, we welcome the proposal even if it doesn’t go far enough. It’s a major infrastructure project which will help bring Britain out of recession and a project which will help bring our railway into the 21st century.’
Vision and commitment
With passenger and freight volumes soaring Mr Whelan argued that upgrades alone will not be enough to meet demand. Said Mick, ‘The consequences of insufficient capacity on our rail network would be disastrous for the British economy with major implications for our domestic and international competitiveness. ‘That’s why we think it is time for politicians to show real vision and commitment to a transport policy for the long-term including the development of a high speed rail network.’
Although the RMT remains opposed to private sector involvement in the scheme Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, also warned that further delay would be disastrous.
‘The British public should be under no illusions. If there isn’t significant and sustained investment and modernisation of Britain’s railways over the coming years, services will grind to a halt under the sheer weight of passenger demand. It is already starting to happen as overhead lines, track and signals fail and the delays in fleet replacement all lead to breakdowns, delays and disruption.’ Mr Crow said.
However he urged that the project be run under the public sector. ‘HS2, alongside essential maintenance and upgrading, is part of the package needed to meet demand and it should be built and run in the public sector.
Over at Atkins rail business, Douglas McCormick, managing director, pointed out that high speed rail brings distinct advantages to the cities it serves. ‘Through our involvement in the delivery of major infrastructure projects around the world, including high speed rail, we have seen the direct benefits other countries have achieved from their forward-looking investments.
‘We therefore see this Bill as a crucial step forward for the UK’s international competitiveness and economic and social prosperity.’
Atkins has already been working on the project preparing designs for the southern sections of HS2. Mr McCormick added, ‘Following the successful delivery of the infrastructure for the London 2012 Games, British engineering and construction companies proved major projects could be delivered to plan.
‘We are confident this momentum can be continued and following the deposition of the Bill we can focus on maximising the benefits HS2 offers and creating a lasting legacy for future generations.’
Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, urged Britain to be bold and support the scheme. ‘HS2 is the most ambitious and important infrastructure project in the UK since we built the M25 30 years ago, and in 30 more it will be just as integral a part of the nation’s prosperity.
‘The Bill will give us the powers we need to get the railway built and start delivering the extra room on our railways that this country so desperately needs. It will also start the process of rebalancing the economy and bringing our great cities closer together. That is why the Bill is so important – it marks the move from aspiration to delivery. Now is the time to be bold and ensure HS2 becomes a reality.’