Government has axed ‘the most critical section of the route’

Concerns raised country will be left with a £67bn white elephant

A key proponent of HS2 says that if Labour forms the next government it must extend the project to Crewe and Manchester or the country will be left with a £67bn white elephant.

Jim Steer, is founder and director of high-speed rail consultancy Greengauge 21, and a well known advocate of high speed rail. Speaking last month to Christian Wolmar on the Calling All Stations podcast, Steer was asked what he would do about HS2 if had just been appointed secretary of state for transport for a new Labour government.

Steer said he would reverse the government’s decision to scrap HS2 north of Birmingham and seek to extend it to Crewe by “2030 or very soon thereafter”. And he would extend the line from Old Oak Common to Euston.

“Build that because if you do you can create a coherent step forward for the national rail network,” he said. “The key message I would have as secretary of state [for transport] is that … this will bring about transformational benefit to rail travel in Britain. It’s a step worth taking. Unfortunately the last government made the mistake of chopping off really probably the most critical section of route.”


Steer pointed out that Phase 2a between Handsacre and Crewe has a very strong business case and would cost £6bn-£7bn to build. “Think of it as spending a billion pounds a year over the next six or seven years, which is what it will take,” he said. “In transport budget terms it’s not huge.”

He continued: “All the alternatives have been looked at and dismissed. Even arch opponents of Phase 2a like Jack Brereton [MP for Stoke-on-Trent South] have said we will need to widen that section of route. You can’t widen that section of route without causing huge local adverse impacts. So we get on and do it, get it to Crewe.”

You might as well talk about the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch [railway] for its relevance to the national economy

Steer argued that the Phase 2a was vital in order to unlock the full value of Phase 1, which is now estimated to cost up to £67bn to complete. He suggested that fulfilling the potential of the line could enable a future government to sell it off as a long term concession to a private investor. The government received £2.1bn for the 30-year HS1 concession when it was sold off in 2010, a high speed route that is relatively short and lightly-used. He added: “That £6bn or £7bn [to build Phase 2a] probably will pay for itself even in cash terms to the Treasury.”

Regarding the extension of HS2 to Euston from Old Oak Common, he said: “It is essential, obviously, to make HS2 work. There’s been talk of huge private sector contributions for the development of Euston – they are, I’m afraid, fanciful … So you have to face up to it. This is a piece of national infrastructure.”

Steer was asked what would happen if HS2 was left as a line linking Old Oak Common and Birmingham, with a spur to Handsacre. He responded: “I’m not even prepared to think about it … It’s completely ridiculous isn’t it. You might as well talk about the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch [railway] for its relevance to the national economy.”

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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