Protesters gatherto oppose rail link
Local rail services could be starved of cash for the next 40 years if money is ploughed into the high speed rail route between Birmingham and London, a leading transport commentator has warned.
Christian Wolmar, a former journalist and now transport specialist, said he also doubts forecasts that passenger numbers on the West Coast Mainline between Birmingham New Street and London Euston would increase three-fold in the next 30 years, claiming they were unrealistic.
Mr Wolmar was speaking ahead of a major conference organised by opponents of the proposed 250mph high speed route, due to take place in Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, next Saturday.
The Stop HS2 event will also be attended by speakers from pressure groups as well as MPs.
Mr Wolmar, who will be speaking at the conference, said: “Nobody should underestimate the Government’s will to build a high speed rail line – it is one of their flagship projects and something they are keen to go ahead with come what may.
“I think the environmental argument is the weakest of them all and although I feel sorry for people whose homes are on the line, I think they need to be realistic.
“My fundamental objection to it is that I’m not convinced about the demand for a massive new piece of transport infrastructure.”
Mr Wolmar said capacity could be increased dramatically without spending on a new line.
“There are ways of improving capacity without investing that sort of money,” he said. “Most of the stations could accommodate longer trains and with signalling changes, there could be more trains out of Euston.
“On top of that, I think the Chiltern line between Birmingham and London will absorb some capacity because it will dramatically cut journey times in the next year.
“I accept that passenger numbers have risen but the Government has raised the cap on fare increases so for the next few years we could be looking at seven or eight per cent hikes in ticket prices and that will start to slow the growth down.”
Mr Wolmar will tell campaigners trying to persuade the Government not to press ahead with the £30 billion project to cast aside their emotion about the effect on the environment and house prices.
“This isn’t the sort of thing that is going to be won by nimbyism,” he said.
The Government has said that high speed rail is crucial to improving capacity and that there will be no more room for passengers between the two cities as early as 2020.
A recent Network Rail report predicted the West Coast Mainline will run out of capacity by 2024 as passenger demand grows by as much as 61 per cent between London and Manchester.
Geoff Inskip, chief executive of transport body Centro, has also claimed the high speed line would offer a chance to revolutionise local rail services as it will free up capacity on the West Coast Mainline.
High speed rail would put Birmingham within 49 minutes of the capital.
Demonstrators will target the Conservative Party Local Government Conference in Kenilworth tomorrow (Friday) where Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman will address Tory councillors on the plans.
The Kenilworth Stop HS2 action group says it will play a recording of how it believes the trains will sound.
Joe Rukin, the group’s chairman, said: “Without bringing any of the benefits the government claims for it, HS2 will damage or destroy hundreds of miles of countryside, ancient woodlands, National Trust properties, other sites of architectural importance, wildlife habitats, businesses and productive farmland.”