AN MP has broken ranks by urging ministers to explore a rival high-speed rail scheme which promises bigger benefits to the North-East.
Ian Swales, the Redcar MP, threw his weight behind a little-known project called High Speed UK – arguing it would save billions and link far more cities across the North.
The Liberal Democrat said the £42.6bn HS2 scheme is flawed because it is “basically all about London”, offering few benefits to the rest of the country.
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In contrast, High Speed UK (HSUK) insists its proposals are “25 per cent cheaper” and would: * Improve journeys on 498 key routes – instead of just 44 routes, if HS2 is built.
- Avoid a reduced serve on any routes – while HS2 will make journeys worse on no fewer than 135.
- Connect all nine ‘primary cities’ of the North, Midlands and Scotland with direct, high-speed trains - running hourly or more frequently.
- Cut intercity journey times across that network by an average of 40 per cent – far more than five per cent, under HS2.
- In Darlington’s case, link the town to ten ‘primary cities’ – up from eight, under HS2 – including across the Pennines.
- Link Middlesbrough to London and Manchester, through high-speed trains running on classic lines. The town is not on the HS2 map at all.
Mr Swales said: “The problem with HS2 is that it is basically all about London, with little benefit for the North-East.
“This scheme would run up the East Coast all the way to Scotland, but – crucially – it would also improve connections across the Pennines, from both north and south.
“For example, there would be big savings in the journey time from Newcastle to Liverpool and to all the big cities along that vital economic corridor, as well as links to Scotland.”
Mr Swales stressed he was “not against HS2”, but added: “Another option has emerged from people who know the rail industry.
“I think it deserves serious consideration by the Government - and it’s not too late, because there is no spade in the ground yet, is there?”
HSUK would see a single high-speed line built up the East Coast to Glasgow – through Darlington and Newcastle - with spurs off to all England’s major cities.
A cross-Pennine spur would allow 225mph trains to run between the North-East and Liverpool, on a route widely criticised for its poor service.
In contrast, HS2 will only connect the region to Birmingham and London – and the trains will slow to conventional speed north of York.
However, HSUK – which is planning a major Westminster launch – is likely to be criticised for failing to provide a direct London-Manchester link, or Birmingham-Manchester.
In the Commons, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said only the existing HS2 scheme would deliver the biggest benefit – an increase in capacity.
He added: “I think HS2 is the right scheme to go ahead with. We will get a train service that is adequate for this country not just for ten or 20 years, but for the next 150 years.”
But Quentin Macdonald, one of the brains behind HSUK, said it was the result of seven years’ work, by rail experts with many decades of experience.
He told The Northern Echo: “HS2 is bloody awful – it does nothing for the North. You would expect high-speed rail to link up the North, but you can’t even get from Newcastle to Liverpool.”