High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 7:13 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South 7:13 pm, 28th April 2014

I draw the House’s attention to my interests in freight transport issues.

A number of questions remain unanswered by these proposals, and it is pitiful that we have only five minutes to elaborate on them. Constituents and others have asked me whether there is a better way to spend £50 billion to £100 billion to ease capacity, which is a problem that is recognised across the House—by those in favour of HS2 as well as by those against it. Better connectivity between existing airports has been suggested as a better way to address the matter. Constituents have talked about improving signalling so that we can increase capacity on the west coast main line. Interestingly, someone mentioned the idea of reducing the number of first class coaches on some of the west coast main line trains. Indeed, we have also heard about the double-decking of trains, which is used extensively on the continent and would certainly boost capacity.

Dr Beeching’s name has not been heard in this Chamber today. Constituents have talked about rolling back some of the Beeching cuts and opening up some of the lines to increase connectivity. There has also been talk of having dedicated freight lines, and improving HS1, and removing this nonsense of having to travel all the way around London to get through the tunnel and into mainland Europe rather than the better idea of having a freight terminal north of London.

There is also this matter of a slight identity crisis. This proposal was always about developing a high-speed line—or, more accurately, a very high-speed line—but now it has morphed itself into a capacity issue, or possibly both. What has been missed time and again is that if we are to have a new high-speed line and are to free up capacity, we will have to cut services on the existing west coast main line. That brings me to the issue that has been raised by my hon. Friends. At the moment, a passenger can get on the train at Stoke-on-Trent and in one hour and 23 minutes, they can be in Euston. If we move to HS2, a passenger will have to travel for an hour to Birmingham and then get on a 40 or 50 minute train to Euston. How can one hour 50 minutes be better than one hour and 23 minutes? That will be the case. It is not an issue of timetabling. As the Government have said time and again, this is all about freeing up capacity on the west coast main line, and that means cutting existing services on that line.

In the moments I have left, I want to go back to this issue of the very high-speed line. The line we are talking about has gentler curves and lower gradients because it is being built to a much higher specification than the trains that will run on it, so that is an area in which savings can be found.

To jump ahead now, there are also issues relating to east-west connectivity and the KPMG report, which I raised in an intervention. The report said that the only city actively to lose out on these proposals would be Stoke-on-Trent. That brings me to the Stoke-on-Trent proposals, which are a very good response by the city council to the HS2 phase 2 consultation. I hope that Ministers have read them, because they were making lots of uncosted announcements about Crewe while the consultation was still going on. I am delighted to see that Mr Timpson is sitting so close to his Front-Bench colleagues from the Transport Department.

Understandably, colleagues in Manchester want faster journey times, but the Stoke-on-Trent proposal would allow a faster service seven years earlier than the consultation proposals by using a combination of high-speed lines, as far as Stoke-on-Trent, and then classic compatibility on the existing lines into Manchester. Manchester would benefit seven years earlier than it would with the consultation proposals. Again, the proposals from Stoke-on-Trent would not require the expensive remodelling of the west coast main line junction point, which would be the case with the Crewe proposals. Indeed the Stoke-on-Trent proposals are costed, whereas the Crewe ones, which would require a new station two miles or so further south than Crewe, are not costed at all.

With just seconds left, let me say that there is great detail here about why the Stoke-on-Trent proposals would make so much more sense. We are talking about connecting in millions more people than the Crewe proposals. I am not convinced that they are the best way to spend the money—