Only the planned high speed rail line with Birmingham at its heart will be able to meet growing demand for rail travel in future decades, MPs have warned.
An all-party group of around 70 MPs who back high speed rail warned that failing to build the line would damage Britain’s economy and exacerbate the wealth gap between the North and Midlands on one hand, and the South and London on the other.
But opponents dismissed the report as a sham and claimed the MPs had decided to back the high speed rail line, known as high speed two or HS2, before beginning the investigation.
The report, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail, examines other options put forward by opponents of the £32.7 billion line.
But it concludes that none of them will create enough capacity to meet demand for rail travel.
Local authorities opposed to HS2, including Lichfield City Council, Stratford on Avon District Council, Warwickshire County Council and Warwick District Council, have come together to form a group called 51m which is urging the government to increase capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line instead.
This is the line used to run Virgin Train’s services from London to Birmingham and Manchester.
A second alternative scheme, called Rail Package 2, also involves upgrading existing rail lines. It was developed by engineers Atkins at the request of the Department for Transport to test the case for HS2 by comparing it to another option.
But the MPs conclude that even with upgrades, the only way the West Coast Main Line could provide enough capacity for long distance passengers was if local services and freight services were cut.
By contrast, building a new rail line will allow local and freight services to be expanded on the existing rail network.
Passenger numbers are likely to double over the next 30 years, the MPs conclude.
The report said: “It is impossible to be fully certain of future demand. However, given wider patterns in the economy, the potential available for modal shift and recent trends in demand, growth at two per cent does not seem unrealistic.
“Passenger numbers have roughly doubled since privatisation, and as yet there has been no slowing of demand, despite the recession.
“Predictions that it will do the same again over the next 30 years do not seem reckless.”
The report concluded: “If rail demand grows in line with the medium forecast at around two per cent a year, and demand can be spread throughout the day, then it is possible that the RP2 or 51m proposals will provide enough capacity to meet intercity demand.
“However, it is far more doubtful whether they could provide adequate capacity to match demand for local services or freight. These would effectively have to be sacrificed to ensure that passengers were not crowded off the West Coast Main Line.”
The report’s authors included Redditch MP Karen Lumley (Con). Other members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail include Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston).
Campaigners opposing HS2 criticised the findings. Stop HS2 Campaign coordinator Joe Rukin said: “It is no real surprise that a group of out-of-touch MPs who would see their journey time to London cut, think mistakenly that there will be benefits to their areas, and are heavily influenced by the businessmen who directly benefit from the construction of HS2, think that building it is a good idea.
“This report is a sham, it was a foregone conclusion. It is shamelessly selfish and ignores the facts.
“Much like the Department for Transport, they had set out what they wanted to find before they even started.”
Plans for the rail line have received another major boost after Labour leader Ed Miliband appointed Lord Adonis, the former Transport Secretary, as his advisor on industrial policy in a recent shadow cabinet reshuffle.
Lord Adonis was one of the architects of the plans now being pursued by the Coalition government, and his appointment should help to entrench cross-party support for the scheme.