U.K. Transport Secretary Attacks Labour on High-Speed Rail

U.K. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin urged the opposition Labour Party to set out clear support for a high-speed rail link from London to the north, warning that the project could otherwise be at risk.

Labour has retreated in recent months from its backing for the plans for the line, known as HS2, after initiating them when it was in government before 2010. In an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper published Oct. 27, Labour’s transport spokeswoman, Mary Creagh, wouldn’t say whether the party will support the line in the 2015 general election.

That has left the 42.6 billion-pound ($69 billion) project under threat. Prime Minister David Cameron said Oct. 25 that it needs cross-party support. His government published a new business case to back the arguments for the line today.

“You can’t say one day you back better infrastructure, only the next threaten to stop it being built,” McLoughlin was scheduled to say in a speech today, according to extracts released by his office. “You can’t play politics with our prosperity. The new north-south line is a multibillion, multiyear investment in the future of Britain.”

The transport secretary was speaking in Manchester, one of the northern cities the line will extend to. In response to Labour’s official line that there’s “no blank check” for the project, McLoughlin was scheduled to say: “That’s obvious. Did anyone ever claim there was?”

The proposed 335 miles (540 kilometers) of track will run from London to Birmingham in central England and then split to link in Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. HS2 trains would reach speeds as high as 225 miles an hour.

The Department for Transport today published its benefit-cost ratio for the line, saying the benefits would amount to 2.3 pounds for every 1 pound of costs. It said that if it was allowed to use economic models of continued passenger growth, the ratio could rise as high as 4.5:1.

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