WRITING in The Sunday Telegraph, Cheryl Gillan — MP for Chesham and Amersham, who was sacked as Welsh Secretary in David Cameron’s last Cabinet reshuffle — claimed “HS2 is a cancer that will cost our country dear.”
But Ms Gillan’s rant was quite without justification — and factually incorrect.
She claimed HS2 is a “Labour initiated folly.” But the whole idea of developing a High Speed Rail route to the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds started not with Labour but with . . . the CONSERVATIVES, promoted by Theresa Vlilliers when she was the party’s front-bench shadow transport secretary.
Nor did Ms Villiers propose to “rejuvenate our railways with high-speed links” — as Cheryl Gillan claimed in The Sunday Telegraph.
What Theresa Villier proposed was a completely new High Speed line leaving London, via Heathrow — passing through the Chilterns — to Birmingham and going on to Manchester and across the Pennines to Leeds. This became known as the “reverse S” route and remained Tory policy until the 2010 general election.
The Liberal Democrats also gave general support to development of High Speed Rail — but not in the very specific way, including a detailed route proposal, as promoted by the Conservatives.
Labour came late to supporting the concept of High Speed Rail, and then only when Lord Andrew Adonis (who understands railways) first because Transport Minister, and later Transport Secretary, and set up HS2 Ltd to examine options for a north-south HSR system.
In early 2010, this resulted in proposals for HS2 to be built in two stages — with a direct route from London to the West Midlands, rejoining the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield, and then a second stage to complete a Y-shaped network with extensions to Manchester and the North West and Leeds and the North East.
HS2 Ltd’s plan was at odds with the original ‘reverse S’ scheme proposed by Theresa Villiers, including not going via Heathrow. But after the 2010 general election, and careful assessment of the alternatives, the coalition government — including Cheryl Gillan, who was in the Cabinet as Welsh Secretary — agreed to adopt the principle of the Y network instead of the ‘reverse S.’
This was announced by Philip Hammond, who was then Transport Secretary with Ms Villiers as his deputy, at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in October 2010.
After public consultation during 2011 Justine Greening, who had by then become Transport Secretary, confirmed the first stage of the route — which will form the basis of a hybrid bill to be introduced in Parliament later in 2013 — a year ago, including an added link between HS2 and HS1, and a spur to Heathrow to be included in stage two.
Cheryl Gillan also claimed in The Sunday Telegraph that “Labour barely electrified a single additional mile of rail, and came up with the idea of HS2 to ‘fill the gap’.”
In part this is correct — during Tony Blair’s government only 15km of single track between Kidsgrove and Crewe were electrified.
But when Lord Adonis was Transport Secretary (and Gordon Brown was Prime Minister) approval was given to electrify key regional routes in the North West and the Great Western Main Line from London to Newbury, Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff . . . since extended to Swansea and the Cardiff before she was sacked as Welsh Secretary.
Ms Gillan is so out of touch with reality that she even claimed in her newspaper article that HS2 will “fail to connect with HS1 and its access to Europe”. But this is part of the scheme agreed by Justine Greening a year ago, with a link across north London between Old Oak Common and St Pancras.
Ms Gillan also claimed that “we already have a long-established railway system, along existing transport corridors: it would benefit greatly from more investment, rather than diverting money to the excessive expense of creating a whole new railway system.”
In this she overlooks that there used to be another established transport corridor through the Chilterns — the Great Central Railway, closed north of Aylesbury in 1966 by a Labour government carrying out the policies of Dr Richard Beeching, who had been appointed by a Conservative government.
Ms Gillan also totally overlooks the huge levels of investment that are being committed to improving and enhancing the existing rail network — over £37 billion, announced in the rail industry’s Strategic Business Plan for 2014-19, published on 8 January.
Network Rail even says that its investment plans include making a start before 2019 on constructing HS2 “to relieve the huge capacity constraints on the West Coast Main Line”.
But most of the £37 billion planned spending between 2014-19 will be on the existing network — giving the lie to the claim that going ahead with HS2 will divert investment away from the classic system. Indeed, the total expenditure planned for the existing network between 2014 and 2019 — including maintenance, renewals and enhancements — will be at least as much as is planned to be spent on HS2 over 15 years, three times as long!
Incidentally, Ms Gillan also claimed that “electrification of the London to Swansea line by 2017 will bring economic benefits at a fraction of the price of HS2.” However, she overlooked the huge cost of building and operating a new fleet if Intercity Express trains, new maintenance depots, and renewing all the signalling along the route in accordance with the European Rail Traffic Management System — and the £900 million cost of reconstructing the station and track layout at Reading, the Great Western route’s major bottleneck and cause of congestion and unreliability today.
Current reports also suggest that the electrification project may now cost much more than the original estimate of £1.1 billion (with some reports suggesting it could rise to as much as £7 billion) – and in Bath there is growing opposition to the erection of any overhead electrification equipment through the heritage area of that city!
If and when Great Western electrification is completed it will only allow journey times to be reduced back to those that originally applied when British Rail introduced its iconic 125mph diesel High Speed Trains in 1976 — 37 years ago. Since privatisation in 1997, Great Western Main Line journey times have been extended considerably as additional station stops have been added to timetables to meet the continuing growth in demand for rail travel.