HS2 debate targets capacity

On 21 June, the Rail Freight Group joined other rail industry experts to give evidence to The Transport Committee on the Government’s plans for delivering HS2, the proposed new high speed rail line from London to Birmingham.

The business case for the project is currently under consultation and the Committee heard that the key benefit of the new line would be the extra network capacity it could release for both passenger and freight services.

The Committee heard concerns that the proposal was based too much on ‘guesswork’ in terms of predicting future demand for rail travel. It also heard how HS2 would integrate with the rail network.

Capacity freed up by HS2 was at the heart of the debate and experts argued that HS2 was ‘about capacity, not speed’.

When asked by chairman, Louise Ellman, what the strongest points of the case for high speed rail are, Tony Berkeley, chairman of the RFG, said:

“By far, the strongest argument in favour of the high speed line is the capacity it releases. I believe the passenger forecasts for 20 years’ time is about to double present traffic and certainly for freight, the forecast is that it will double by 2030.

“This is mostly concerning containers on the main routes between London or the ports. I believe we need the capacity for passengers and freight and that the high speed line is a good way of doing it.”

He added that it would be better if the line started construction in Manchester and Leeds, working south in the first phase, as Birmingham would create a huge bottleneck for both passenger and freight services.

“There must be a link between High Speed 1 and 2 to enable full continental gauge trains to use it and bypass the North London Line.”

Opponents to HS2 argue that the £17bn scheme would be a waste of money and that updating the existing West Coast Main Line would be a better investment but ministers say the line could mean a £44bn boost for the UK economy.

Phase one of the consultation ends in July and it is expected a decision will be made by the government by the end of the year. Work on the new line is due to start in 2015 if the plan is approved.

The committee took evidence from:

  • Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport
  • Chris Nash, Research Professor, University of Leeds
  • Christian Wolmar, railway author and broadcaster
  • Michael Roberts, Chief Executive, Association of Train Operating Companies
  • Richard Eccles, Director of Network Planning, Network Rail
  • Anthony Smith, Chief Executive, Passenger Focus
  • Lord Berkeley, Chairman, Rail Freight Group
  • Nicholas Petrovic, Chief Executive, Eurostar
  • Pierre Messulam, Rail Strategy and Regulation Director, SNCF

The Transport Committee’s ‘evidence session’ can be watched in full, here.

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