Lord Adonis’ vision for a £30bn high speed railway from London Euston to Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds has been met with a mixed reaction.
The Institution of Civil Engineers welcomed the commitment to high speed rail.
“The commitment outlined today is a positive step - high speed rail has huge economic and environmental potential and could also free up capacity on a network that is already stretched. However, high speed rail must be part of a wider, integrated transport plan that offers people real choice and reduces car dependency,” said ICE director general Tom Foulkes.
“High speed rail will also need a secure, predictable source of funding and the ICE will continue to push for a national infrastructure investment bank or similar funding mechanism, to ensure vital infrastructure projects like this are built without putting strain on the public purse or compromising other projects.
“Such an ambitious project demands the very strongest commitment, both politically and financially. Political wrangling must be avoided and cross party consensus achieved to give the public more confidence and speed up delivery. ICE is keen to help facilitate this consensus.”
The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) also welcomed the announcement on high speed rail, and urged all parties to set aside their differences to focus on its efficient delivery.
Like the ICE, the ACE has previously urged cross-party cooperation on high speed rail to enable effective development of the UK’s strategic infrastructure needs. It has also made the case for long term thinking on investment that looks beyond electoral and economic cycles.
“Two of the biggest challenges faced by the UK are boosting our economic prospects and moving toward a low carbon economy. High speed rail would be a major benefit in both of these areas,” said ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin.
With the project set to cost up to £30bn, the ACE warned that learning the lessons of the successes and failures of previous large scale projects is essential.
“While we are pleased that a preferred option has now been announced, the most important point is that the project is delivered in as efficient and cost effective a manner as possible. The UK cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of previous high profile projects such as the London Underground PPP,” said Ogunshakin.
Civil engineering contractors also called for party politics to be put aside.
“This is a very welcome step forward towards the creation of a 21st century rail network for the UK. It will stimulate economic growth and employment whilst reducing carbon emissions from short haul flights. The HS2 project has the potential to become a showpiece for British engineering, proving that the UK can deliver complex major infrastructure schemes on time and on budget,” said CECA national director Rosemary Beales. “However, in the past, major projects have not always met these aspirations and these failures can often be traced back to planning delays and inadequate preparation. Such groundwork can only begin once there is consensus over what is to be delivered.
“Regardless of the proximity to the General Election it is vital that all political parties work together to agree a detailed plan of what is to be built. A failure to do this would set the UK’s high speed proposals off on the wrong tracks, a route that it will be difficult and expensive to reverse.”
The Campaign for Better Transport said the government had failed to show that the high speed rail plans will get people out of cars and planes. The group also warned against cutting transport funding today to fund expensive ‘jam tomorrow’.
“The danger is that a high speed line will suck money out of the current transport network. The last thing people want is service cuts, higher fares, and more potholes, while the executive classes are treated to gleaming new high speed trains,” said CBT executive director Stephen Joseph.
“Even with extra money on the table, there must be a strategy to get people onto rail. The Government’s plan is high speed rail plus business as usual. It will make no difference to carbon emissions, and could even make things worse. Fares must be cheaper than flying and driving  and high speed rail must be an alternative to new motorways and airports.”
Friends of the Earth cautiously welcomed the plans.
“A new high-speed rail link could play a significant role in tackling climate change by providing a real alternative to short-haul flights and long-distance car journeys - but these proposals are forecast to have a minimal impact on cutting carbon emissions, and may even lead to an increase,” said Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins.
“Major changes to Government transport policy are required to ensure that this huge project plays its part in a low-carbon future.
“Ministers must scrap plans for new runways and roads and ensure that rail travel is the most cost-effective and convenient option for long-distance travel throughout the UK and into Europe.
“Because the new trains will only be as green as the power source that fuels them, we urgently need to develop a low-carbon electricity grid by investing in the UK’s vast renewable energy potential.
He added that the new rail link must not come at the expense of other low-carbon transport schemes like buses, existing rail services and measures to encourage walking and cycling and said that government funding for these must be protected.
Mixed response to high speed rail plans