Conservatives would start work on a competition to build a new high-speed rail line as one of their first acts in Government if they win the next election, Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers has said.
The party would scrap Network Rail’s monopoly over the construction and maintenance of rail infrastructure, and invite bids to build a new service from London to Birmingham from businesses across the private sector.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Ms Villiers also said that ticket prices on the new line, construction of which would begin in 2015, would be comparable to prices on the West Coast Main Line.
Conservatives announced their high-speed rail plans during their party conference in Birmingham last year, three months before the Government launched its own proposals, as the banking crisis was in full swing.
Ms Villiers insisted the dire state of the public finances would not affect Conservative plans.
She said: “We believe that the overall cost will be about £20 billion in today’s money over the course of the construction period, of which about £15.7 billion would need to be met by the taxpayer, with the rest being generated by the private sector.”
Construction of rail infrastructure is the responsibility of Network Rail, a not-for-profit company set up by the Government. But for new high-speed services, other firms will be invited to submit bids, Ms Villiers said.
“We would want to get started on the preparation, including preparing for the competition for building the line, as soon as possible if we do win the general election.
“So that is an important focus for the preparation work that we are doing over the next few months.”
She added: “I think Network Rail are quite relaxed about this, but I don’t think we should tie ourselves down to a particular structure that has been used in the past. That’s not to say that Network Rail wouldn’t necessarily be involved at some stage, but we don’t feel it would be the right way to deliver this project efficiently.”
Trains would run at 186mph, cutting journey times between London and Birmingham to 45 minutes – and making it possible to travel by train from Birmingham to Paris in three hours.
“We have set out a timetable for delivering the whole of what we propose, ie London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds by 2027.
“But common sense would suggest he line is built in phases. So there is every reason to believe that Birmingham might well get its high-speed link more quickly than the final completion date of 2027.”