U.K. High-Speed Rail Won’t Hit Other Plans, McLoughlin Says

U.K. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the building of a high-speed rail line between London and the north of England will not suck investment from other transport projects.

The line, known as HS2, will make Britain stronger, McLoughlin said in a speech to the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester, one of the northern cities the line will reach. He dismissed the “moaning” of London-based critics.

“Don’t let anyone dare tell you we’re starving our existing transport network in order to feed bigger projects,” McLoughlin told delegates. “In the next Parliament we’re putting more than three times as much money into things like roads and other rail schemes.”

McLoughlin said he will listen to the critics of the line, which will go through Conservative-voting rural districts, while insisting that the government is committed to the project. He sought to draw a contrast with Ed Balls, the Treasury spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, who last week hinted that a future Labour government might back out of the 50 billion-pound ($80 billion) project.

“The thing about infrastructure is it is built over decades and lasts over centuries. You can’t fix it all in one Parliament, it needs persistence,” he said. “Not starting with a plan then giving up. We’ve seen that happen before.”

Johnson Optimism

The Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said he’s optimistic agreement can be reached with new HS2 Chairman David Higgins over concerns that his transport commissioner, Peter Hendy, has raised about the plans for the line in the U.K. capital.

Hendy said in an interview with the London Evening Standard newspaper that he wants a section put in a tunnel, a new station built and the cancellation of a link to Eurostar services at London St. Pancras. He is also seeking a guarantee that the next phase of the trans-London Crossrail link would be funded as a condition of building the second phase of HS2.

“We are working on that, and I am very confident we will be able to do a deal with David Higgins and make sure we get what we need,” Johnson said in an interview near Manchester today.

Construction of HS2 is due to begin in 2017, with the first part of the line, from London to Birmingham, opening in 2026. After Birmingham the line will split, with tracks going to Manchester and Leeds. These sections won’t open until 2033.

McLoughlin also announced plans for ultra-fast broadband on the rail network, benefiting 70 percent of travelers by 2019.

Network Rail Ltd.’s mobile-phone infrastructure will be upgraded to tackle “not-spots” and equipment will be installed on trains to remove barriers to good reception, the Department for Transport said in an e-mailed statement. Network Rail will draw up a business case for funding the work, DfT said.

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