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Sunday, May 19, 2024

High Speed Rail Group publishes recommendations for Government post HS2 decisions

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A comprehensive long-term strategy to develop the UK’s inter urban rail network is essential for future economic growth and achieving net zero, according to a new report from the High Speed Rail Group. Political figures on all sides are urged to look beyond HS2 and take a fresh approach in order to maximise the potential of high speed rail in the UK, which the High Speed Rail Group say is “vast”.

The High Speed Rail Group, which brings together expertise in engineering, operations, funding and regulation, outlines five recommendations for the next Government in its new report, High Speed Rail: Exploiting the Potential. If implemented, these would allow the UK to deliver the new capacity and connectivity which it desperately needs to grow sustainably.

From cancelling the section of HS2 between Birmingham and the North West, to removing the entire section south of Leeds and to the East Midlands, plans for new high speed rail have been drastically scaled back over the years. Whilst European neighbours continue to progress and seize high speed rail’s vast benefits, the UK’s network has fallen victim to short term thinking and political expediency.

To reverse this trend, the High Speed Rail Group, urges politicians to learn from recent mistakes and set out a long-term strategy, which includes considering alternative funding models that can lever in private investment to deliver new high speed more quickly and cheaply than previously considered in the UK.

Prioritising new links in the areas most immediately in need, and where the benefits would be greatest, must be central to this new long-term strategy. A new link between Birmingham and the North West is required to alleviate Britain’s biggest rail bottleneck on the West Coast mainline and to boost connectivity between the UK’s second and third largest cities. Secondly, the case for a new East-West connection across the north of England, from Liverpool to Hull via all the major cities of the north, remains overwhelmingly strong.

Driving economic growth, which transforms prosperity and productivity across our regions, should be a national priority. From meeting net zero objectives and levelling-up regional economies, to creating thousands of green jobs and investing in the UK’s skills base, this report points to a proven track record of delivery, here and abroad. It is clear that the physical infrastructure and engineering experience provided by HS1 and HS2 can form the foundation for a national high speed network. The next Government must act decisively to realise this vision.

The report outlines the following recommendations for the next Government:

  • Develop, and stick to, a comprehensive long-term strategy for both North-South and East-West travel, prioritising the link from Birmingham to the North West, and the route across the north of England from Liverpool to Hull.
  • Develop a funding model which allows the Euston station works to be completed and give immediate go-ahead to the section of HS2 from Old Oak Common to Euston, and in particular avoids any costly delays to the tunnelling work.
  • Retain the present HS2 landholdings and avoid a costly fire-sale of land until those long- term decisions have been reached.
  • Engage with the infrastructure investment community to explore all funding options. It does not have to be an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach with some assets, such as rolling stock and stations, lending themselves more easily to privately finance than others.
  • Recommit to work towards a three-hour journey time from London-Glasgow/ Edinburgh, which would play a vital role in strengthening economic and social ties between the nations.

    Whilst long-term decisions are unlikely to be made before the next General Election, these recommendations go beyond narrow party politics. Whoever forms the next Government, without a long-term plan, industry and investor confidence could be fatally undermined and Britain’s economic growth will remain in the slow lane.

    Dyan Perry, chair of the High Speed Rail Group, commented: “We are delighted to launch our new Exploiting the Potential report today. Amongst the uncertainty and controversy surrounding recent decisions on HS2, it is imperative to take a step back and look at the UK’s high speed network as a whole before assessing where we should go next.

    “If the UK is to achieve its growth and net zero aims, we urgently need to develop a comprehensive strategy for high speed rail travel, whilst thinking creatively to unlock the maximum investment possible. The next Government must take smart, long-term decisions to maximise wider benefits and reach regions calling out for investment.”

    To view the full report click here.

    Image credit: HS2

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