High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:18 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee 6:18 pm, 28th April 2014

I welcome the Bill to start the building of the high-speed line from London to the west midlands. High Speed 2 was first put forward in 2009 by Lord Adonis when he was Secretary of State for Transport. Since then there has been considerable and very necessary discussion and debate. The project has all-party backing; it is now time to fire the starting gun.

This must be just the first stage in building a high-speed network for the UK, with phase 2 expanding the network to the north. It must be built as a major addition to the national network, linked with investment in the existing classic line so that essential increased capacity and connectivity, together with the potential for regeneration, are realised. Increasing capacity for both passengers and freight is required on both the east coast main line and the west coast main line. The figures released last week by the Office of Rail Regulation showed a phenomenal doubling of rail passenger journeys in recent years, together with a vast increase in freight on rail. In the past decade, rail passenger journeys have increased on average by 5% per annum and freight has expanded. On some routes, the increase in passenger journeys has been more than 70% over that decade. That increase is expected to continue, and the demand for freight is increasing.

The growing demand for rail from both passengers and freight is already causing problems on the west coast main line, where there are insufficient rail paths available to meet the needs of the new services that are required, and delays are already occurring. The Transport Committee has addressed this issue on a number of occasions. In our first inquiry in 2011, we looked at alternatives to building a new high speed network. We looked specifically at upgrading the west coast main line as an alternative. The Committee was very clear that that will not provide the step change that is required. The £9 billion west coast main line investment of 2008 has brought essential improvements, but it has not created enough capacity for the future.

I was pleased to see that the recent reports from both Sir David Higgins and Lord Deighton took forward the very specific recommendations made by the Transport Committee to ensure that the best possible value is obtained from this necessary investment across the nation. Those recommendations include building a line, together with continuing investment in the classic line at the same time as the new capacity is built.