Britain’s railways face a major capacity challenge in the years to come. That was why, when we were in government, Labour proposed Britain’s first new north-south rail line for more than 100 years. We remain convinced that the project is essential, as is completing the wider rebuilding of our rail network that began under the last Government to reverse the damage caused by decades of under-investment before 1997. Doing nothing is not an option because the existing network is fast reaching the limits of its capacity.
Attempting to upgrade the existing main lines could deliver some, but nowhere near all, of the additional capacity that will be needed in the decades to come, and yet the cost would still be great, as would the disruption to passengers and freight. It would mean that we had learned nothing from the experience of carrying out a major upgrade of the west coast main line while attempting to keep it in use. After a decade of inconvenience and disruption, and almost £10 billion spent, the job was finally completed, but it delivered nowhere near the benefits that will come from a new north-south rail line. By building a new line that extends from London to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, we can relieve the pressure not just on the west coast, but on all three existing north-south main lines.
It is vital that we are clear about why the scheme is necessary. Those of us from all parts of the House who support the new line need to be better at communicating why the investment is essential. The new north-south rail line is necessary to deliver a major increase in capacity on our rail network. That is why we cannot afford to delay the delivery of this project any longer.