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Tories back high speed rail

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said this week that the Conservatives will back the development of new high speed rail lines in their election manifesto.

Her announcement in an exclusive interview with NCE came as high speed rail pressure groups appealed for a heavyweight political champion to back new lines.

"I am working hard on proposals to take high speed rail forward in this country to see if we can't at least start to catch up with countries like France and to deal with the capacity problems on our network," she said.

"In government we would do the feasibility studies to make progress towards High Speed 2 [between London and Birmingham]and other high speed rail."

She adds that between now and the general election she will be looking closely at funding options.
Villiers' comments came as Conservative leader David Cameron laid out his party's transport plans in an environment speech on Monday.

He backed high speed rail but ruled out further expansion of Heathrow Airport and construction of a third runway.

The Conservatives' support for high speed rail will be welcomed by those lobbying for further lines following the success of the High Speed 1 (HS1) line between London and the Channel Tunnel.

Bechtel head of rail Tom McCarthy said that a political champion was vital.

"We learned that without Michael Heseltine and John Prescott, projects [like HS1] might not have happened.

"It takes a political champion to get high speed across the line," he said.

The Conservatives' commitment to further high speed rail lines and opposition to Heathrow's expansion directly oppose the government's positions on these key transport issues.

Last week, rail minister Tom Harris said that the government was unconvinced by the green credentials of high speed rail.

Harris told Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies that, "the argument that high speed rail is a 'green option' does not necessarily stand up to close inspection."

Frustration at the slow progress of high speed rail projects was expressed by the Commons Transport Select Committee last week. It criticised the Department for Transport’s “disappointing” action on high speed rail.

"We were … concerned that the Department has no time-frame for a decision on a high speed link, at least as far as Birmingham, the stretch of the [West Coast Main] line with the most pressing problems."

High speed lobby group Greengauge 21 has proposed such a line to Birmingham, while Atkins and Arup have also put forward their own plans.

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