The head of Eurostar has thrown his weight behind a high-speed rail link between London and the West Midlands.
Chief executive Richard Brown said the region is highly likely to get England’s second high-speed railway.
Mr Brown told more than 60 delegates at a CBI lunch in Birmingham yesterday that the city and surrounding area appeared to be “first on the list”.
He said: “I think it is highly likely that the West Midlands will get the next high-speed line. The Government set up High Speed Two in January with the idea of linking London with the West Midlands and then moving to the North of England.
“You can’t assign probability but it’s a pretty good start. I am not up to date with current plans but the choice of station is very important, it needs to be accessible to the city and have the capacity. It is not an easy decision and this will be the main challenge but the first section should go to the West Midlands with plans to move to the rest of the country.”
During the senior executive lunch, hosted by the Royal Bank of Scotland, Mr Brown put forward the case for a second high-speed railway which would take more than ten years to build, following the success of Eurostar and the High Speed One project which has slashed travelling times to Paris and Brussels.
He talked about the economic argument as well as the environmental case.
“If we want to improve travelling times between cities and regions there is only one way to do it,” he said. “We already have two motorways between London and Birmingham and the speed limit is 70mph. To improve accessibility there is only one option.
“High-speed reduces rail times and improves accessibility between cities and regions, it leads to greater business productivity, extended markets and wider job opportunities.
“Key rail routes are forecast to reach capacity by the mid 2020s. New high-speed lines will release substantial capacity on existing lines for freight and regional passenger services and motorway and airport capacity. They will also ensure better punctuality, a seven-day railway and a step change in the image and appeal.
“High Speed One proves we can build high-speed lines within a densely populated country with relatively little disruption. The project was delivered on time and within budget.”
John Morris, head of corporate affairs at Birmingham International Airport, which this week got the go-ahead for a runway extension, said: “High Speed One is the benchmark and Birmingham should expect nothing less.
“What that means for Birmingham and the West Midlands is a direct connection to the continent which gives people choice and in aviation we believe in choice. If the high-speed railway is going anywhere it should be to the second city – Birmingham. I believe we need a better deal.”
Earlier this year, Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon set out plans for a second high-speed line.
The Department for Transport has created a company called High Speed Two, chaired by former civil servant Sir David Rowlands, to develop the proposals.
The first high-speed line between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel came into operation in November 2007.
Trains on the 68-mile railway can reach up to 186mph.