Posted by

Tom Nolan, Policy Adviser

13 Sep 2013

It has been clear for some time that many of the UK most important rail lines will soon be full.  Since the rail network was privatised in the early 1990s rail usage has grown at more than 5% per year, and the forecast growth in passenger demand will mean that each of the north-south main lines – the West Coast Main Line (WCML), the Midland Main Line (MML) and the East Coast Main Line (ECML) – will reach their effective capacity for long distance services in the 2020s.

The only realistic solution is to build a new rail line; the first one north of London since the 19th century. The question is whether to build a conventional line or a high speed line. Although a high speed line would be more expensive, the evidence shows that it would generate greater benefits to the economy. It would also show that the country is serious about having world class infrastructure.

Opponents of HS2 have been given plenty of media coverage in recent weeks. But despite the amount of air time they have had they are yet to explain how the UK is going to cope with an overcrowded rail network. Their usual solution, an upgrade of existing lines, would simply not work. Anyone who travelled on the West Coast Mainline during its upgrade a few years ago will know that cannot be a viable long-term option. It will only cause significant delays and is never a solution for more than a few years. Without HS2 passengers will have to accept never ending disruption to their journeys.

The capacity argument alone should be reason enough to support HS2; but it will also bring about significant economic benefits throughout the UK. A report published by KPMG shows that HS2 will boost the UK economy by £15bn a year, and regions outside London will be the biggest beneficiaries of the new service.

It is for these reasons that we decided to write to the Prime Minister this week to re-state our long-held support for HS2. While support for HS2 is not universal amongst our members, and in fact some hold opposing views, the letter was signed by 27 Chambers of Commerce. Together we called on the government to stay the course, and ensure that HS2 proceeds as planned.

Of course our support is dependent on a commitment that other transport projects will continue to receive necessary funding, but we are confident that this will be the case. Already £37.5bn has been allocated to the rail network for period up to 2019. And as the experience of Crossrail shows, major infrastructure projects can take place alongside investment on other schemes.

HS2 will remain in the news a lot over the coming months as Parliament starts debating the legislation needed to build the line. We hope that all parties will look at the evidence and get a new high speed line up and running as soon as possible.