HS2 to go ahead

This article was published in the Birmingham Post on Thursday 2nd February 2017.

An eleventh-hour bid to derail the £55.7 billion high-speed rail project has failed in the House of Lords.

It means the first phase of the HS2 network, between London and Birmingham, will go ahead after more than three years of parliamentary scrutiny.

Peers opposed a backbench move to block the scheme by 386 votes to 26, a majority of 360.

One Conservative politician claimed Theresa May tried to scrap HS2 when she became Prime Minister - although the suggestion was immediately denied by Downing Street.

Lord Framlingham, who was a Tory MP for 17 years, told the House of Lords: “I have it on good authority that the Prime Minister, when she assumed office, wanted to abandon the scheme but was told that she could not because it was too late.”

A source close to the Prime Minister said: "This is totally untrue - the Prime Minister has consistently supported important infrastructure improvements like HS2".

The peer, whose name before accepting a peerage was Michael Lord, was Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich until 2010.

Lord Framlingham was proposing a wrecking amendment, which would have blocked the legislation.

But peers voted to give a “third reading” to the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, which has already been approved by the Commons and now goes to the Queen for royal assent.

It opens the way for construction work on phase one of HS2 to start in the spring.

Phase one is due to open in December 2026, with a second Y-shaped phase launching in two stages.

Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe will open in 2027 and phase 2b, from Crewe to Manchester and from the West Midlands to Leeds, South Yorkshire and the East Midlands, will begin operation in 2033.

Transport minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon stressed the importance of HS2 to ensuring the UK was “a 21st century country on the world stage”.

He insisted checks and balances were in place for the scheme.

Lord Ahmad added the project was important in ensuring “connectivity, capacity, to ensure our country truly is a 21st century country on the world stage”.

The Department for Transport has launched a contest to find a rail company to operate trains in the line. The winning firm will manage West Coast Main Line inter-city services, including those between Birmingham, London and Manchester, help plan the new HS2 high speed services, and operate them when they start.

It means that the number of long distance trains between Birmingham and London will be cut on the West Coast Main Line, allowing more local services to be added, as well as allowing more freight trains to run from the Midlands to London, providing a boost to industry.

They will be replaced by up to 10 trains per hour in each direction from London Euston on the new high speed line. The completion of the first phase of HS2 will nearly triple the number of seats at rush hour from 11,000 to around 30,000, the Department for Transport says.

The new franchise is scheduled to start 1 April 2019.

Ministers have also launched a contest for a £2.75 billion contract to build the fleet of high speed trains.

The Government says it expects hundreds of jobs to be created.

Up to 60 state-of-the-art trains to transport passengers at around 225mph on Britain’s new high speed rail service are needed, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said.