5 APRIL 2010
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Behind France, Germany, Korea, China and possibly the US, it seems a decade late, the UK is joining the 21st Century’s railways.
With this in mind Transport Times, the surface transport publication, organised a London conference following on from Lord Adonis’ railway report published in early March.
Adonis’ proposals have a Y shaped back-bone from London to Birmingham where the new, purpose-built high speed lines split to run north either side of the Derbyshire Dales and onto Manchester and Leeds. Journey times tumble, capacity is massively increased and the airlines quiver.
North of Manchester and Leeds the service, still using High Speed rolling stock, reverts to a “classic” railway and chugs onto Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively.
Nearly all agree it’s a fine idea and the folk who have the environment in their hearts eulogise about the impending demise of domestic flights to Heathrow from our northern and Scottish cities. Modal shift from air to rail is the prize.
Lord Adonis himself was the keynote speaker and presented a resounding and well-crafted case. He seems to have gathered cross party support as well as the ear of the rail industry and business, councils and the like from the regions, not to mention an appreciative conference audience.
Adonis is respected by all other than from a rather petulant and election-happy Teresa Villiers, whose Conservative Party agree it is a desirable project.
However the Tories seem to be trying to claim it as their idea but will not agree on detail or provide alternatives, yet. The Liberal Democrat’s Transport Shadow Tom Baker, accurately described her as “unhelpful and posturing for the general election”.
This decade’s major transport infrastructure project will be Crossrail which should be operational by 2016/17.
In another piece of joined up thinking, Adonis makes the case that all the experience and skills associated with Crossrail can seamlessly move over to HS2.
The Crossrail team can start again on a multi-billion pound, ten-year construction programme. And HS2’s earliest operational date is 2026. That is someway off!
Two main points cornered the debate. One, whether HS2 will serve Scotland as a genuine high speed product in the first phase of the build; again this is currently not in the Adonis plan. Such is the belief in the economic benefit that those cities with access to HS2 will gain, those excluded (i.e. Newcastle, Wales and the West Country) are naturally concerned they will be left behind.
The second main point is Heathrow.
Adonis has appointed Lord Mawhinney to look at whether Heathrow is served from an interchange ten miles away at Old Oak Common, HS2 runs through the airport or something in between.
The Tories are linking the routing debate with their opposition to the third runway. Greengauge 21, a railway lobby group, put their solution up, which essentially is still high speed but using for the most part existing railway paths.
There is no clear consensus other than Heathrow is a major factor in what the final product will look like and who it will serve.
Heathrow is recognised as being a major asset for the UK. HS2 is accepted as being critical to the UK’s economic development and well being. The two will have a significant effect on each other and the wider economy; the decision on how they interact is therefore critical.
Finally, it was Christine Dejean, Head of Northern European Market for SNCF and the 7th presenter of the day who was the first to talk directly about “the customer”.
The preceding speaker had identified benefits in terms of time savings but it was Christine who actually used the word customer. She said “it is our customers who make our projects successful”.
Councillor John Shipley, Leader of Newcastle City Council also recognised that if flying from Newcastle to Heathrow remained the most convenient option, then that is the one the customer will choose, HS2 or no HS2.
Whatever the final option for HS2 and Heathrow, whichever government leads this project, it needs to put the passenger is at the heart of the solution and make sure the traveller is not just an afterthought. http://www.transporttimes.co.uk
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