The rail thing

Sam Shead

According to Gil Howarth, project director of the Channel Tunnel rail link (CTRL) or HS1 as it has come to be known, all big rail projects need to be championed by a prominent figure in Westminster, City Hall, or both.

Howarth told The Engineer that a political champion in his mind is responsible for, ‘gaining cross-party support and backing from the Treasury, while publicly promoting the scheme and helping to secure support from all stakeholders.

‘The person who got the Jubilee Line extension built was Steve Norris when he was minister for transport and minister for London,’ said Howarth. ‘If you look at Crossrail then that’s been Boris Johnson, and Ken Livingstone before that. HS1 was originally Michael Heseltine and then taken over by John Prescott.’

‘There isn’t a champion for HS2,’ claimed Howarth at the HS2 press briefing London this week.

Meanwhile, Lord Adonis, secretary of state for transport from 2009-2010, told The Engineer that he believes both the current transport secretary, Justine Greening, and David Cameron are acting as HS2 champions.

However, he also claimed: ‘They need to get a move on in introducing the legislation for HS2. It is not scheduled to be introduced into Parliament until the end of 2013, which is nearly four years after I published the plan for HS2.’

But the prime minister and his transport secretary aren’t the only two dilly-dallying on HS2.

Elsewhere, Boris Johnson, the current mayor of London and the favourite to remain in power at City Hall, revealed to Camden voters that he is yet to be convinced by HS2; a statement likely to appease the residents who will be inconvenienced to one degree or another over the course of a decade due to Euston Station’s whole-scale demolition.

So why the hesitation and reluctancy to commit? Part of the reason HS2 is without a key backer at this stage is likely to be because it’s still early days. Even though a plan has been put forward and approved, no one wants to be seen ‘championing’ HS2 as there are still many concerns relating to the route, the trains, the cost, the integration with other lines, and the time frame it will all be completed in.

‘That’s why we need to get the debate properly matured because the worst possible outcome is that this could become political football in the next general election,’ said Jeremy Acklam, member of the Transport Policy Panel at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

‘We need to have a key supporter on side from each party by the time we get towards our next election,’ he stressed.

The IET is getting the debate started at the National Railway Museum in York on 7th June where the discussion will focus on what aspects of the proposals for HS2 could be changed so that the benefits of the population north of Birmingham can be significantly improved.

Projects of this magnitude are key to UK growth but without a committed champion they can also be susceptible to setbacks and delays. With the backing of the engineering sector and arguably more importantly, the British public, I’m optimistic a champion or two could emerge from under the covers in the near future.

An interview with the technical director of HS2, Prof Andrew McNaughton, will appear in the 28th May issue of The Engineer.

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