Alistair Darling, the former U.K. chancellor of the exchequer and transport secretary, said he now opposes building a high-speed rail line linking London to northern England, a project he approved while in office.
“Politicians are always excited by ‘visionary’ schemes,” Darling wrote in an article for the Times newspaper today. “One thing I have learnt is that transport, rather like banking, is at its best when it is boring.”
Darling cited reports of rising costs and doubts about the economic case for the line, known as HS2, which will cut journey times and increase capacity on existing lines for freight. The government estimates the cost of the line and trains at 50 billion pounds ($78 billion), including a 16 billion-pound allowance for contingencies.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition partners are committed to the project, which began under the previous Labour government, of which Darling was a member. Labour has said it remains committed to HS2. Andrew Adonis, the transport secretary who drew up the plans, is advising Labour leader Ed Miliband on economic policy.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4 today, Darling said there are better ways to boost the economy outside southeast England and that high-speed rail risks starving the existing network of much-needed investment.
“I’m an enthusiast for the railways but my fear is that if you build this visionary project you’ll have a nightmare on the rest of the network because you won’t have the money to spend on it,” he said.
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