Transport minister Lord Adonis fuelled hopes at a recent ICE event that proposals for a new UK high speed rail network could be announced in the near future.
Speaking at the High Speed Rail – International Experiences event in the West Midlands, Adonis said he was optimistic a report of findings from High Speed 2 – the company created to examine the case for high speed rail services connecting London with destinations further north – would be released prior to the next general election.
Developing a high speed rail network has widespread merit, particularly the environmental case for increasing public transport capacity in a more energy efficient way. However, there are many associated issues which need to be assessed, such as the interoperability of the existing network, freight and funding.
Adonis suggested an expert body be appointed to investigate the possible impacts.
“High speed rail has the potential to free us from the geographical and historical constraints of our existing rail network, but it is an enormously challenging undertaking and will be the most important transport decision we take over the next year.
High speed rail has the potential to free us from the geographical and historical constraints of our existing rail network
“We must carefully examine the difficult economic, routing and funding issues before we take a decision on the future of high speed rail,” he said.
Internationally, high speed rail networks have being implemented successfully, offering faster and more efficient rail links in Europe and Asia.
However, Adonis said that from his experience there was no one model that could be “lifted off the shelf” and implemented in the UK. He stressed that to drive the high speed rail agenda forward there needed to be a political consensus on the scheme.
Former chair of the ICE’s transport board, Alan Stillwell, said the ICE agreed that cross-party support was crucial.
“The ICE highlighted the need for a political consensus on transport strategy in the State of the Nation Transport report published last year. It is encouraging to hear the minister calling for cross-party agreement on a significant long-term project such as high speed rail,” said Stillwell.
The news that the government is making progress toward the development of a faster, more efficient rail network is likely to please the UK public, who showed considerable support for high speed rail as a transport alternative in a recent ICE poll.
Two thirds of respondents said they thought improved high speed rail could end the need for domestic flights in the UK.
The majority also thought high speed rail would boost the economy, reduce congestion on roads and motorways and free up space on existing railway lines.
ICE director general Tom Foulkes said: “Our airport runways are already congested, and air travel is one of the biggest contributors of carbon emissions in the UK. Providing faster, affordable rail services between major cities could reduce demand for shorthaul air travel, and possibly put an end to it completely.”