To drive down costs and speed up the delivery of HS2 the project should be started at Manchester and Leeds as a well as London, says Sir David Higgins.
Asked to review costs and timescales the new head of HS2 startled ministers by urging simultaneous construction in the north and south. This would cut costs in the long term. Higgins also warned that political wrangling would drive up costs.
The Labour opposition has questioned the need for HS2. UKIP opposes it altogether. However according to Higgins – who officially steps down as chief executive of Network Rail on 31st March – the need for more capacity trumps all other arguments.
‘I travelled recently from Birmingham to London, and I travel that line a lot. It was unbelievably packed, absolutely heaving,’ says Sir David. ‘There are no new train paths. We’d love to put more trains on the west coast…(but)…It’s a very tired, old, smartly refurbished railway line that is right at capacity.
‘It’s the busiest mixed use railway line in Europe and it’s showing. We can’t get more trains on it.’ Failure to build the high speed railway will result in people queuing to get on mainline trains. ‘You won’t get on trains. It will be like the Piccadilly Line at peak hour. Usually, I stand for three trains before I can get on. You’ll be doing that at Milton Keynes. You’ll be forming queues to get on trains.’