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HS2 will ‘drive growth, cut journey times and bring cities closer together’, says DfT

HS2 will ‘drive growth, cut journey times and bring cities closer together’, says DfT

🕔03.Jul 2014

The Department for Transport has put the case for building HS2 at the opening session of the Commons High Speed Rail Bill Committee, declaring that the line will deliver huge economic growth as well as cutting journey times between Birmingham and London.

Timothy Mould QC told MPs the line would also bring cities closer together and, crucially, free capacity on the West Coast Main Line.

He admitted, however, that the project had triggered “considerable objection” from people living along the line. The committee will consider 1,918 petitions lodged against the High Speed Rail Bill.

Mr Mould explained that not all of the petitioners object in principle.

Some express their support but fear that the proposals do not go far enough.

Birmingham City Council Birmingham Airport, the National Exhibition Centre, transport authority Centro and other key regional stakeholders have submitted petitions while remaining strong supporters of the high speed rail project.

They believe the Bill can go further in ensuring the region wins the maximum benefits possible both for passengers and the local economy.

Among the assurances being sought by the Birmingham petitions is the need for imaginative and high quality designs for the two HS2 stations and their close integration with the Curzon and UK Central masterplans – blueprints for the regeneration and development of land surrounding the stations.

Birmingham City Council and Centro are also seeking provision for a future link between HS2 and the existing HS1 high speed line to the Channel Tunnel.

This would enable direct services between the West Midlands and Europe without the need to change between London’s Euston and St Pancras stations.

Also highlighted in the petitions is the need to fully plug HS2 into the local transport network by way of a common concourse between the Curzon and Moor Street Stations, a tram extension to Curzon and an improved alignment of the proposed people-mover linking the HS2 Interchange with the airport, NEC and Birmingham International.

Mr Mould said the first phase of HS2 would run from an expanded Euston Station in London to a connection with the West Coast Mainline in Staffordshire at Handsacre. A spur is to run into the centre of Birmingham to a new station at Curzon Street.

He added: “There will be two new vital interchange stations. The first such station is at Birmingham Interchange, which will provide direct connections to the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham Airport and Birmingham International Station.

“The second interchange station is at Old Oak Common in West London. It will connect HS2 directly to Crossrail with trains to the West End, the City of London, the Isle of Dogs and Heathrow. It will also connect directly to the Great Western Line for onward connections to Wales, Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, Reading, Bristol and the West Country.”

He put the case for HS2: “In short, a new north-south rail network is needed to provide sufficient capacity to meet long-term demands for travel and to improve connectivity by reducing journey times and making travel easier.

“High speed rail will improve resilience and reliability across the network, a new high speed rail network will support economic growth and regeneration, both nationally and regionally. It will help create a more balanced economy. High speed rail has the ability to bring our cities closer together. It is a particularly effective way of moving people between urban centres.

“Phase One will, as soon as it becomes operational in 2026, immediately and significantly, improve connectivity between London and the West Midlands.

“In conjunction with the cross platform interchange with Crossrail at Old Oak Common Phase One will bring the United Kingdom’s second city within an hour of the City of London and Heathrow and within a few minutes over an hour of Canary Wharf and, most importantly, vice-versa. That, in turn, will translate into long-term economic benefits for the country.

“The Bill will release capacity on the West Coast Mainline allowing for improved patterns of service patterns on that route, along with increased freight capacity. It is worth noting that the West Coast Mainline provides intercity rail services to a combined metropolitan population of well over 20 million people, but substantial sections of that line also form part of the suburban rail systems in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow with many smaller commuter stations.”

The Department of Transport was “keenly aware” of the need to reduce the cost of HS2, but not without compromising the objectives of creating an efficient high speed rail line, Mr Mould said.

He continued: “Your Committee will hear throughout its proceedings of areas where extra investment could – petitioners will say – improve things along the line of the route. At this stage we would simply say this. The cost of the railway must be proportionate.

“If the effects on those along the line of route are satisfactorily addressed by what is already proposed under the Bill, then there is no case to spend further money to make things more than satisfactory.

“You will hear petitioners argue for long new tunnels in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere. We will say that such changes are not necessary and, therefore, that there can be no case for paying for them. Otherwise, what is claimed to be the best for some will very quickly become the enemy of the good for all.

“Moreover, in many instances such proposals would, in fact, compromise the performance of the high speed railway.”

Mr Mould said it was expected that 11 services an hour would run in each direction on Phase One from 2026, rising to a maximum of 14 trains per hour prior to Phase Two. The railway will be operational between 5am and midnight or 8am and midnight on Sundays.

Services will operate as 200-metre long trains or 400-metre long trains depending on demand and time of day.
Trains will run at speeds of up to 225 mph, reducing the Euston to Curzon Street journey to 49 minutes.

Mr Mould said: “In addition to the economic benefits, which will flow after the new railway comes into service, the construction of the project will itself provide significant employment opportunities and boost to the national and local economies.

“As the Secretary of State said in opening the debate at second reading, a project of the size proposed in this Bill does not come without negative impacts. The objective must be to enable the nation to take full advantage of the opportunities and benefits offered by the Bill whilst mitigating those negative impacts as far as is reasonably practicable.

“First and foremost, the promoter has followed the principle of seeking to avoid or reduce adverse effects through the design of the railway. The alignment of the route itself has been developed and refined in order to limit the potential for adverse environmental effects. The railway has been designed to be low in the landscape, taking advantage of natural topography and landform to shield the line both visually and aurally from those who live and work along the route.

“Building on experience gained from earlier schemes, particularly HS1, the creation of false cuttings and extensive planting along the route will provide further effective visual and aural screening to neighbouring occupiers and local communities. Noise and visual impacts are thereby avoided or limited by the simple expedient of using the natural landform and the engineered railway as a noise and visual screen.”

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