Last week saw major announcements from the Government on transport, including confirmation that a decision has been taken to proceed with HS2, boosting capacity, connectivity and cutting journey times between our biggest cities. This is welcome news for the Royal Town and commuters across the West Midlands.
The Prime Minister outlined plans to instil discipline and financial order to the project, including more updates to Parliament and a newly-dedicated HS2 minister.
In Britain train travel has almost doubled in the last two decades, reaching a record 1.8 billion journeys a year. Rail usage has increased faster than any other mode of transport. Our Victorian rail network does not have the ability to cope with this increasing demand. HS2 is critical to increase capacity on our existing network – which in turn will facilitate opening up more rail lines and services across our region.
Rail infrastructure has featured heavily in my discussions with our West Midlands Mayor Andy Street. Andy recently unveiled his transport vision for the region which will help to reverse the Beeching cuts and will see the re-opening of passenger services on lines such as Sutton Park. Investment in HS2 must not come at the cost of other projects, we need HS2 but we also need to transform suburban services. HS2 will release more capacity at Birmingham New Street and will help make this vision a reality.
Demand on rail freight services is also increasing. Passenger and freight trains largely share the same rail network. Despite recent modernisation, the West Coast Mainline continues to operate close to capacity in peak periods. The complex mix of inter-city, commuter, local and freight traffic that operates with varying speeds and stopping patterns limits commuter services into Birmingham and Manchester and the ability to run additional freight trains in the North and Midlands.
As we strive to meet Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, rail will become an important mode of transport for freight. In 2017/18, 7.2 million lorry journeys were avoided as a result of rail freight, providing environmental benefits and reducing road congestion. The increased capacity HS2 frees up on the traditional rail network will create space for an extra 144 freight trains per day.
HS2 is not simply about keeping up with demand; it is designed to bring about major growth in the Midlands, improve connectivity both nationally and regionally and help drive forward future economic growth. HS2 is already driving jobs and investment into the West Midlands. It’s not years away; even now we are seeing businesses move to Birmingham, in part due to HS2. HSBC moved its retail bank headquarters to the city and the Martineau Galleries redevelopment project will transform Dale End into the 'front door' for HS2. The old industrial area of Digbeth has been transformed and together these projects will vastly improve our ability to sell the region internationally for investment.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision on HS2, it will help transform the West Midlands and ensure we have the transport infrastructure we need for the future.