High-speed HS2 rail project backed by new Transport Secretary

The high-speed HS2 rail project has the backing of the UK’s new Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, who said on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that he has no intention of scrapping the high-speed rail project.

HS2, which stands for High Speed 2, is a planned high-speed railway linking London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. It is called HS2 because HS1 (High Speed 1) is the one that connects London to the Channel Tunnel.

HS2 MapThe plan is for a ‘Y’ shaped high-speed train linking London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. (Image: adapted from Wikipedia)

HS2, if it ever goes ahead, will be built in a ‘Y’ configuration with London at the base of the ‘Y’, Birmingham at the fork, and Manchester at the top left and Leeds at the top right. Planners say that work on the first phase will start in 2017, reaching Birmingham by 2026 – the whole thing will be completed by 2033, if everything goes according to plan.

The Stop HS2 campaign urged the new Transport Secretary to review the HS2 project, following on from a recent revelation that HS2 Ltd – the company responsible for the design, engineering and construction of the new high speed rail network – failed a review in May this year due to concerns regarding costs, schedules and the effect on cities and towns close to the route.

However, during the radio interview Mr. Grayling said: “I have no plans to back away from the HS2 project.”

Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager, described Mr. Grayling’s comment as “hardly a ringing endorsement” of the project.

New runway for London

Mr. Grayling also talked about the plan for a new runway for London, saying that he plans to reach a quick decision regarding where it should be built.

Earlier this week, London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged UK’s new Prime Minister Theresa May to give the go-ahead for a second runway at Gatwick as soon as possible, describing it as “one of the first major tests for the new Prime Minister.”

Mr. Khan says that expanding Gatwick is a better option for the nation’s capital, instead of Heathrow.

London’s two largest airports – Heathrow and Gatwick – have been bitter rivals for a long time, both claiming to be the ideal place for the new runway to be built.

Gatwick new runway proposalGatwick airport says it should have the new runway. London Mayor Sadiq Khan agrees. (Image: Gatwick Airport)

In a speech at Gatwick, Mr. Khan said:

“There’s now one obvious choice for Theresa May to take: a second runway here at Gatwick. Crucially, this choice would mean we can meet the future aviation capacity requirements of London and the South East whilst keeping our air quality safe and within legal limits.”

“I’m calling on our new Prime Minister to make the right choice and to make it quickly. Gatwick is not only the faster and cheaper option, but the cleaner and better option for London.”

The Airports Commission published a report in 2016 that said a new runway is needed by the end of the next decade, and backed Heathrow’s plan for a third runway.

Regarding a new runway, Mr Grayling said:

“I am very clear that I want to move rapidly with a decision on what happens on airport capacity. It is a decision that will be taken collectively by the government.”

“We have a quasi-judicial role so I’m not going to say today whether I prefer Gatwick or Heathrow. I’m going to look at this very carefully in the coming weeks.”

HS2 is a capacity project

Mr. Grayling said that people need to understand that HS2 is not just a speed project, it is a capacity project.

“We have lines at the moment which have seen huge increases in the number of passengers, the amount of freight in recent years,” he added.

The West Coast main line, Mr. Grayling said, is becoming extremely congested and is limiting the capacity of services to such places as Milton Keynes and Northampton.

Video – Why Heathrow for new runway?

In this Back Heathrow video, local people give their thoughts on why a secure future at Heathrow Airport is important for them.

Mr Grayling said:

“Of course it makes sense if we’re going to build a new railway line for it to be a fast railway line, to increase travel times or reduce travel times from north to south – that’s logical.”

“But actually we need a better transport system for the 21st century and HS2 is part of increasing the capacity of our transport system.”

Later this year, MPs (Members of Parliament) will vote on the first phase of the HS2 project. If the bill is approved, construction will begin on the London-to-Birmingham section.

In the coming months, HS2 Ltd. is expected to be handing out contracts worth up to £11 billion.

Joe Rukin said:

“Mr Grayling must immediately get to the bottom of why HS2 Ltd have been allowed to begin their tendering process, despite failing their review.”

“It would be irresponsible not to carry out a review at this point in time, as even if the new Government decided to go ahead with the project, a post-Brexit HS2 could cost much less, as EU specifications on things like the need to double up tunnels add billions to the overall cost.”

Video – HS2 Euston Station Vision

HS2 Ltd. sets out its vision for bringing high-speed rail to Euston Station. The plan is for Euston to be at the heart of the UK’s transport network by providing a world class station with better underground and more trains.