New head of UK high speed rail project to seek all-party support

LONDON Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:19am BST

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (R) talks to David Higgins, Chief Executive Officer of Network Rail during a visit to a development at Blackfriars in central London November 1, 2011. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/Pool

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (R) talks to David Higgins, Chief Executive Officer of Network Rail during a visit to a development at Blackfriars in central London November 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Simon Dawson/Pool

Related Topics

LONDON (Reuters) - The newly appointed chairman of Britain's proposed high speed rail network said on Thursday his first task would be to seek cross-party support for the 42.6 billion pound ($68.5 billion) project.

David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail who headed the Olympic Delivery Authority, will take up the role in January, replacing Doug Oakervee.

Higgins said he would immediately try to secure support from the opposition Labour party for the high-speed line between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

The project, known as High Speed Two (HS2), has been heavily criticised by business groups and lawmakers who question whether the infrastructure programme will generate sufficient benefits to outweigh its rising cost.

Labour's finance spokesman Ed Balls hinted this week that Labour might shelve the project if it won the 2015 election. He told his party conference that Labour still supported the idea but alternative options may need to be considered.

Higgins said it was essential for economic growth that Britain upgraded its railway network that was the oldest in Europe and struggling with overcapacity.

"On the bottom end it is all about capacity ... in the north it is about connectivity," Higgins told BBC radio. "You can't have this as a political football. It is too crucial."

Higgins said he would be meeting Balls in the coming weeks to discuss the project.

He also questioned the timing of the project which currently would see the first trains running between London and the west Midlands by 2026, saying this was too far out.

"The case to be made is what is the alternative?" Higgins said. "It is essential for economic growth in this country to have a proper, modern railway."

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Alison Williams)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
Tazzer wrote:
What a waste of money

Sep 26, 2013 9:56am BST  --  Report as abuse
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Fifty billion of extra borrowings, to cut a few minutes off a train journey, and wreck many peoples lives in the process of so doing.

Not what the country wants… Where is our referendum, where is our democracy?

Sep 26, 2013 12:14pm BST  --  Report as abuse
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
We have a railway system already, we dont need another one at the cost of 50bn pounds additional borrowings, and adding to the national debt.

Totally unjustifiable, and if a person wants to get from English point A-B fast as need be,(in a country which is a slab of land no longer than 400miles x 300 miles) then the govt should be subsidizing regional air fares.

This govt got in by swearing the country was spending more than it can afford, today the same country is still spending way above its revenue means, and the clowns that be want further borrowings to keep a few ultra rich project financiers happy! (and all the backhander wide receivers, that shall go with it)

Sep 26, 2013 1:49pm BST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.