High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents


The UK is sometimes accused of failing to invest sufficiently in its transport infrastructure and of not planning for the long term. Whether or not this is accurate, the Government is now proposing what is probably the largest single investment in UK transport infrastructure in modern times—HS2.

Unlike policies for major roads and airports, this proposal has all-party support. It is not, however, universally supported by Members of Parliament or the public. We acknowledge the deeply held and often well-informed views on both sides of the debate. Through our inquiry we have sought to examine the strategic issues and to put information into the public domain. We have reached conclusions and recommendations on what we believe are key issues.

We support a high-speed rail network for Britain, developed as part of a comprehensive transport strategy also including the classic rail network, road, aviation and shipping. We believe that the Government's HS2 proposal could form part of this network and provide substantial improvements in capacity and connectivity for inter-urban travel between our major cities. Furthermore, the released capacity on the classic rail network would also enable widespread improvements on local and regional rail services.

Alternative proposals to upgrade the existing West Coast Main Line would provide additional capacity but, given the substantial recent growth in rail passenger numbers, it seems that the alternatives might prove inadequate. They do not offer the step-change or the wider benefits to passenger and freight that HS2 would do. Whether these alternative proposals would be adequate turns on the accuracy of demand forecasts, which are a substantial part of the case for HS2.

Although the impact of high-speed rail on regional economies is harder to predict, we note the substantial support for high-speed rail from businesses and local authorities in the regions. We note too that, once implemented, some major transport schemes have proved to have had greater economic impacts than their pre-implementation appraisals predicted. We believe that high-speed rail could have strategic economic benefits and should be planned on a strategic basis. It should be integrated with economic development planning.

Many issues about the Government's proposal for HS2 and about high-speed rail in general have been raised in the course of our inquiry. We have pointed to a number of areas that we believe need to be addressed in the course of progressing HS2. These include the provision of greater clarity on the policy context, the assessment of alternatives, the financial and economic case, the environmental impacts, connections to Heathrow and the justification for the particular route being proposed. We call on the Government to consider and to clarify these matters before it reaches its decision on HS2.

Our inquiry has dealt with the strategic case for high-speed rail. If the Government decides to proceed with HS2, a hybrid bill will provide the opportunity for detailed matters, including those of environmental impact and mitigation, to be addressed.

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Prepared 8 November 2011