Labour questions economic case for high-speed rail link

11 December, 2010

Is this a wake-up call to those in favour of high-speed rail? (Which, by the way, is 95% of the population, according to a poll of 1,000 people by The Leading Edge for Greengauge 21 in 2009.)

The Guardian has revealed that the Labour Party – whose support for HSR couldn’t have been clearer going into the 2010 Election Campaign – now takes the view that expenditure on high-speed rail will have to be examined along with all other areas of public expenditure by a future Labour Government.

Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle is reported saying:

As Ed Miliband has said, we rightly start with a blank sheet of paper – that sheet doesn’t have a high-speed train line running through it. Just as the prime minister said when he told the defence secretary that Trident couldn’t be put in a special box marked untouchable and protected from tough spending decisions, neither can high-speed rail.”

According to Transport Correspondent Dan Milmo, Angela Eagle questioned the economic case for the scheme and suggested that if the Government wanted to reduce the north-south divide – which Prime Minister David Cameron has identified as one of the transformational benefits of high-speed rail – he would do better to reinstate the regional development agencies to boost northern England.

These are, of course, the same regional development agencies that have pro-actively supported the development of high-speed rail as a key contributor to economic growth and regeneration in the regions.

In reality, it’s not either high-speed rail or regional development agencies. The north needs much better connectivity if it is to contribute to re-balancing the economy. To exploit the transformational connectivity change that high-speed rail offers, the north needs to have in place plans that facilitate the kind of major investment and development that will be attracted as a result.

And neither is it a simplistic equation of spending £17bn to cut journey times by ‘only 30 minutes’ as Maria Eagle is reported to have said. High-speed rail adds capacity to the national transport system, and it is the only sustainable way of doing so.