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It is always a great pleasure to follow Mrs Ellman, the Chairman of the Transport Committee. I have had the privilege of serving on the Committee for more than three years now. I have studied this subject not only through my Committee work, but through other personal research and I do not think I have studied any subject in more depth. I will try to put concisely my observations on the project in the next few minutes.
I support the principle of high-speed rail. I confess that I do not believe this route is the optimal one, and I have specific concerns and suggestions to make about it, but I support the Bill. I fear the opportunity cost of not proceeding with this project far outweighs the risk and costs of going ahead. I shall say a little about why I have reached that conclusion.
The point has been well made that many parts of our rail network are close to capacity. Rail passenger use and rail freight use have increased sharply in recent years and any reasonable projection shows that they will continue to rise in future decades. Simply taking into account the increased population of the country, particularly in areas such as mine, it is clear that there will be continued increased demand on transport services and rail in particular. Rail usage increased even in the recession from 2008 onwards.
It is often said that we should invest in the classic network rather than HS2. I would not support HS2 if it was at the expense of investment in the classic network, but there is substantial investment in that network. There is the electrification of the Great Western and midland main lines, as well as new rolling stock and junction improvements on the west coast main line. The Government have sensibly committed to reopening the east-west rail line from Milton Keynes to Oxford and Aylesbury. Those are just a few of the projects.
Essential and welcome as the upgrades are, they will not be enough for the long term. I have come to the conclusion from all my research, and from looking at all the projects and models that have been proposed, that we need to build a new north-south strategic rail line.