HS2 will be built, says transport secretary Chris Grayling

Transport secretary Chris Grayling at the National College for High Speed Rail in Birmingham.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has reiterated the government’s backing for HS2 and pledged that the project will be built. Speaking at a Transport Times conference on 12 October, Grayling said that the country needed HS2 “more than ever”. 

“We need it for the capacity it will bring on the routes between London, the West Midlands, Crewe, Leeds and Manchester, as well as the space it’ll create elsewhere on our transport network,” he said. “We need it for the boost it will give to our regional and national economies. And we need it for the jobs it will create, and for the way it will link our country together. So you can take it from me today, HS2 is going ahead,” he pledged.

Notwithstanding his and the government’s commitment to the project, Grayling said that one of the advantages of being in a new job was that he could take a fresh look at the evidence for why HS2 is needed. Having reviewed that evidence, he said that the facts and figures that make up the case for HS2 were “arrestingly stark”.

With massively increasing passenger numbers – in the last 20 years alone, the number of people traveling on the UK’s railways has more than doubled – and with demand set to increase still further, Grayling said that by 2033 rail journeys will have risen by a further 40% and rail freight will have doubled.

“Without HS2 we’d still be relying on a rail network whose central components are in places nearly 200 years old, built to compete with the stagecoach and the horse-drawn canal barge, and for a population almost five times smaller,” said Grayling.

He also said that the regeneration and jobs case for HS2 was also compelling. “HS2 will transform our country,” he said as a result of “the unique power of transport investment to change towns, cities and communities for the better”. 

“We’ve seen the regenerative effects of new high speed rail at St Pancras, just as we have further afield, in cities such as Bordeaux and Utrecht. We want the same effect at Euston, Old Oak Common, Curzon Street, Crewe, Toton, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds – along with the dozens of other towns and cities who will be better connected as a result of HS2,” Grayling said.

He also spoke of the work that was being done to mark out the career paths for people who want to work on HS2. “Last week, I visited the construction site of our new National College for High Speed Rail in Birmingham. When the college opens next year, it’ll start training some of the 25,000 people we’ll need to build HS2 and when HS2 is open, it will support a further 100,000 jobs in the wider economy, 70% of which will be outside London,” he said.

Addressing the fears of those concerned about the effect HS2 will have on their homes and businesses, whether during construction or operation, Grayling said: “Where compensation is due, it’s right that we pay, and that we are generous. Yet I believe we can do more to spread the positive effects of the railway to people who live and work along the route.

“That is why we will be making a further £40 million of funding available to support community and business projects that will enhance local life. We’re not being prescriptive about what the money’s for; local communities will know their priorities,” he said.

In conclusion, he said the government remained fully supportive of HS2. “We’re not backing away from HS2. The case is as strong as ever. We need this railway,” he said. 

“And if we’re going to build it, let’s make it state-of-the-art, fit for the decades of growth ahead. So that in 2033, we no longer have a rail network with a Victorian heart, but a network with an Elizabethan heart, able to deliver everything we expect of a 21st century transport system.”

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