A high Speed Rail network should be part of the package of policies Labour take to the country at a general election, revealed transport secretary Lord Adonis this week.
Speaking at the Labour party conference in Brighton, Adonis said: “we need to build consensus. All arguments point to high speed rail.
“In planning we are so far behind but we are getting a credible plan to proceed. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link was put back because of planning. Putting a funding package together is difficult in the current climate but it is credible to the public at large.
“The land use planning has be credible in a 20-30 year funding horizon and I aim to build support in government over the next 7-8 months and with unions and other political parties.”
The news comes on the back of a new pamphlet published by environmental lobbying group SERA, which not only backs high speed rail, but has an introduction from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said: “I am excited by the role that high speed rail could play in a low carbon future. High speed rail would provide a fast, low carbon network linking the nations and regions of the UK.
“Together we can build the case for high speed rail as part of the new age of the train,” he said.
Adonis also said he would be building a cross-party consensus for a high speed rail network.
“I want to turn the debate from a transport debate into a debate about the future of the country.
“Do we want a 21st century technology or an incremental upgrade at vast cost such as the West Coast Main Line which caused massive disruption for 10 years for a modest improvement?” he asked.
Adonis also called into question some of the assumptions made by Network Rail in its recent publication on a high speed rail link between London and Glasgow. Adonis has commissioned his own high speed rail study, High Speed 2, which will report in December.
Adonis said: “The first I knew about it [Network Rail’s report] was the day before it was published.”
He added that a permanent link to High Speed 1 would be part of the network – something deliberately omitted from the Network Rail plans as too costly.
“HS2 will have both cost-benefit and environmental benefits listed. It would be insanity for it not to link into the European network,” he said.
Former EU transport commissioner Neil Kinnock said new lines needed five components to succeed:
“They are new, they must meet the needs of the 2020s, that they are a development component of the network, they do not detract from existing upgrades and they are dual use – for modern forms of freight transport. If we do not do this really will be cutting our own throats,” he said.
Unions are also behind the plans although they would prefer a state-backed model to be used, rather than a largely privately funded model likely under the Conservatives.
General secretary of the TSSA Union, Gerry Doherty said: “The Conservatives will turn to the private sector, which will make the costs to the consumer too high. The difference we will make is to invest in it and drive modal shift [away from air],” he said.