High speed rail boss slams lack of investment in North East rail

People in the South "would riot" if their rail services were as bad as those in the North, says HS2 chair Sir David Higgins

An artist's impression of the HS2 high speed rail scheme

The North East urgently needs improvements to rail services – but money is being poured into London instead, according to the head of the controversial high speed rail line.

Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2 Ltd, slammed successive Governments for neglecting the North and investing transport cash in the south of the country.

He said the North of England needed improved trans-Pennine services, linking Sunderland, Newcastle and Durham as well as Leeds with Liverpool and Manchester.

And he called for a “Northern Hub 2” to build on the existing Northern Hub project to improve journey times across the North.

But Sir David warned that cash was actually pumped into the South East, highlighting plans for a new £16bn rail line between Surrey and Hertfordshire via central London, called Crossrail 2. This comes on top of the £15bn Crossrail line, currently being built, which runs through London to Reading.

Sir David, a former chief executive of Network Rail and chief executive of the London 2012 Summer Olympics Delivery Authority, was bought in to chair high speed rail project HS2 following concern that the costs of the scheme had grown.

But giving evidence to the Commons Transport Committee, he went far beyond defending the high speed rail scheme and insisted that it was also essential to upgrade conventional rail services in the North.

HS2/PA Wire Sir David Higgins, who has challenged politicians to pave the way for a faster building of the high-speed line to reduce the £50 billion cost of the project
Sir David Higgins, who has challenged politicians to pave the way for a faster building of the high-speed line to reduce the £50 billion cost of the project

He told MPs: “Crossrail 2 probably will not start for another decade, depending on parliamentary timetables, and will not be finished until 2030 or beyond, but everyone is talking about it. They probably even have Crossrail 3 planned, but no one has Trans-Pennine 1 or Northern hub 2 even thought of. I am challenging our industry and Northern leaders to work on those plans to speed up access.

“There need to be more ambitious plans to reduce the time for a journey of 35 miles between Leeds and Manchester that takes just a few minutes under an hour. That is really unacceptable.

“It is like saying that you will have four trains an hour from Reading to London and they will take roughly an hour to get in. Everyone in Reading would riot, wouldn’t they?”

He said local authority leaders in the North had to work together to win Government support for rail schemes, and he would back them.

“If you look at the way they worked together to sponsor the Northern Hub, which is already under construction and will bring a lot of benefits, they could work together politically as a group, because this is not a debate that will be won in six months.”

Better rail links in the North would allow towns and cities to benefit more from the high speed rail line once it is built, he said.

Also speaking to MPs, peer Lord Deighton said Hitachi’s decision to base its train business in the UK was a response to plans for HS2.

Lord Deighton, a Treasury Minister, is head of the Government’s HS2 Growth Taskforce, which is designed to ensure the high speed line boosts the economy across the country.

Hitachi has announced it will move its global rail business to the UK, a year before the firm opens a £1.2bn train factory at Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham.

Lord Deighton told MPs he believed HS2 trains should be manufactured in the UK, saying: “Clearly Hitachi is smelling the coffee and figuring out where the opportunity is. The advantage of both the scale and the long lead time is that we can position ourselves for that opportunity.”

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