Boris Johnson defends HS2 backtrack, says 'megalines' would take longer and cost more

Boris Johnson said he moved away from an all-out focus on HS2 in the Government's new rail plan as it was too expensive and would have delayed improvements by a decade.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a train journey through the Black Country
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a train journey through the Black Country

The Prime Minister said he would be able to fast-track upgrades by utilising existing track instead of just building "megalines" that would "smash up" virgin countryside and villages.

It comes after the Government's Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) was widely criticised for scrapping the high speed line from Birmingham to Leeds, with the line now ending at East Midlands Parkway, which sits 10 miles outside Nottingham.

The plan also included agreeing to back in principle the Midlands Rail Hub, a series of schemes costing £2bn which aim to reduce congestion across the wider region.

Mr Johnson told the Express & Star the high speed line from Birmingham to the East Midlands was great news for people in the West Midlands as it would massively reduce journey times.

Asked why he had downgraded the route towards Leeds, having previously committed to building HS2 in full, he said: "When I got the whole proposals I got some people I really trust to look at it all, to look at value for money and what people really need and what the benefits would be.

"You can always make a case for massive excavations through virgin countryside and villages and estates, smashing them up to build new lines.

"I believe the smart thing to do is to build some new line and to use existing line when you can. That's what we're doing here.

"We're building a lot of new line, from Crewe to Manchester, the Northern Powerhouse line from Warrington to Marsden, and from Birmingham to Nottingham. So that's three big chunks of new line."

Boris Johnson travelled through the Black Country on a train with Grant Shapps and Andy Street

The Prime Minister added: "The whole thing with this approach is that it brings it all forward and gives us a much more commuter-friendly system that is more sensitive to commuter needs.

"If we had tried to do it all with these megalines it would have taken at least a decade longer and would have cost a huge amount.

"What we can get, is the same savings in journey times virtually everywhere, plus massive expansions in capacity."

Mr Johnson said a new contactless payments system, set to be phased in at stations across the region over the next three years, would lead to reduced fares and increased train usage.

"People in the West Midlands want a commuter-style network like they have down in the South East, and that's what we are doing here," he added.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said the IRP proved the Government was backing the West Midlands.

He said HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester would free up capacity on the existing line to New Street from Wolverhampton, while the Midlands Rail Hub will help with capacity issues going through the Black Country into Birmingham Moor Street.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Government was committed to "putting work" into funding the Midlands Rail Hub, which was a major boost for the region.

Regional transport body Midlands Connect expects the hub's projects to cost £2bn and is currently preparing a business case to put before ministers next year.

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