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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Action needed on High Speed Rail

by Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Exec.

Greater Manchester Chamber have joined forces with chambers across the UK to add their full backing to the creation of a high speed rail (HSR) network in a report published by the British Chambers of Commerce.

The report, which is supported by Network Rail and Greengauge 21, argues that the business and environmental case for an HSR network has clearly been made, offering benefits to the UK economy worth almost £55 billion.

Businesses believe that funding solutions need to be found as soon as possible, so that construction can begin during the life of the next Parliament.

Despite a political consensus on the importance of HSR, the Chamber is urging all parties to go further and sign a binding agreement that commits the next government – from whatever party – to action the work already conducted by HS2 Ltd, the company established by the current government to consider the case for high-speed rail.

The business group argues that HS2’s work is vital to the future success of the UK economy, and it must not be unravelled or delayed after a General Election or because of tight spending constraints.

There are crucial elements which must be delivered on. Firstly, long term commitment and a guarantee to invest in the project must be given by all political parties before and after the election. The time is right in the economic cycle for this to happen; if we were to delay longer then the money will not be there when it is needed to start on actual construction. Secondly, Manchester must be an intrinsic part of the network. As the leading economy outside of London it is vital that we are included in the network to assist with economic development.The case has been proven as to why it must happen we must all now get stuck in to the decision maker to make it happen.

Jo Kaye, Network Rail's route director, said this:

"The benefits for Manchester are immense. The high speed line could deliver four trains every hour from and to London, each travelling at over 200mph. The current average journey time could be cut by about one hour, reducing the travelling time to 1hr 6 mins.

"But it isn't just about speed - there are other benefits for the whole community. With the numbers of passengers that we predict will switch from domestic air flights and from road travel, CO2 emissions will be reduced by hundreds of thousands of tonnes, and as many as 19 lives a year could be saved with people using the train rather than the car."

Jim Steer, Director of Greengauge 21, said:

“We know from opinion research that the public supports high-speed rail – 78% believe it is essential for our future – and this report reiterates the strong support from industry right across the country.

“Greengauge 21 backs the BCC call for political commitment to high-speed rail. The investment is needed to build the nation’s capacity for economic growth in a sustainable way.”

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