Commons Gate

Transport Questions with the Secretary of State (HC 1087-i)

Transport Committee 4 Nov 2009

Evidence given by: Department for Transport Rt Hon Lord Adonis, Secretary of State

Q45 Mr. David Clelland: I welcome what the Secretary of State has been saying about being mindful of the needs of all regions. That is not necessarily the same thing as meeting the needs of all regions. However, it is nice to hear that he is mindful of the needs.

Lord Adonis: Alas, with the best will in the world, I have never been able to do that!

Q46 Mr. David Clelland: So far as the north-east of England is concerned, it is no coincidence that the poorest English region is also the English region which is farthest away from the capital, and therefore distance is not unrelated to the economy of the region. It is therefore extremely important to us that links with the capital are improved, even though we have reasonably good links. When it comes to high-speed rail, the discussions we have been having with other people have revealed that, not surprisingly, high-speed rail will greatly benefit those cities it serves. Therefore it would be a big disadvantage to the North East, and therefore outwith government policy in helping its poorest regions, if high-speed rail were to be developed through other regions before it came up the east coast line. That would mean that other cities would have even more advantage over the North East than they have now. If the Department for Transport is to co-operate with government policy in terms of regional priorities, surely the questions that have now been posed over the route of the line need to be looked at again, in terms of the Government's regional strategies?

Lord Adonis: Can I answer that point by breaking it down into the constituent elements that we need to address? The reason why we identified London to the West Midlands as the first section of the build-out of a North-South high-speed line is because that is currently the most congested part of the intercity rail network and is projected to become at capacity by the 2020s. Therefore, because one of the prime justifications for high-speed rail is to provide additional capacity, once you have decided to provide that additional capacity, it is clearly sensible to do so by 21st century technology, not 19th century technology. Because that is the single biggest factor in justifying the business case for high-speed rail, the London to Birmingham link selects itself in that respect. However, in the terms of reference we gave to the High Speed 2 company, we asked them to produce a detailed route plan for London to the West Midlands and then options for the development of the line to include the conurbations of the North West, Yorkshire, the North East and then the Central Scotland Belt, being the major conurbations of the country. We therefore specifically highlighted the North East as one of the key priorities for the development of a high-speed line in due course. We are therefore very mindful of the importance of seeing that high-speed rail does serve the North East. The reason why the route would necessarily start between London and Birmingham is for reasons of urgently needed capacity on the intercity rail network. Perhaps I could make an additional point, which is an important one on this. Another key requirement that we have imposed on High Speed 2 in terms of the development of a high-speed network is that the high-speed lines, as they are built out, should be fully interoperable with the existing network. That was based on our international analysis of the benefits which can be brought by high-speed rail, which identified very clearly - particularly in France, where this has been a big theme - that, as you build out a line in a country which has many conurbations and a dispersed population, as we do in this country, it is very important that from an early stage of the development of high-speed services the trains can go off the high-speed network onto the classic network and offer through services. A very telling statistic on this is that even today - and we are now nearly 30 years after the opening of the first French high-speed line between Paris and Lyon - a majority of the route mileage of TGVs is in fact done on the classic network, with trains coming off the high-speed lines and going onto the classic network, so that most of the major cities of France are served by the TGV. That is a stark difference to the model adopted in Japan, where they have kept the high-speed network completely sealed as a self-contained operation, apart from the classic railway network. We took a deliberate decision that, in order to ensure that a wider range of destinations can be served from the outset of high-speed rail, we would follow the French model, which is an interoperable system with the high-speed trains able to come off the high-speed line onto the classic network. From the very beginning of the high-speed line, therefore, it will be possible to run high-speed services to destinations beyond.

Q47 Mr. David Clelland: I appreciate that, but the evidence we have taken is that those cities which are directly served by high-speed rail will have an advantage over those cities which are not. Therefore, if the poorest region is left out of the first extension of high speed from Birmingham, or wherever north, they will then be further impoverished because they will be put at a disadvantage compared with the western side of the country, would they not?

Lord Adonis: I do understand your point.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

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