Warrington MP changes opinion on HS2

The on-going dispute over whether a high speed rail link will benefit the North West economy has grown more controversial, with Warrington South MP David Mowat changing his position on the project.

In a letter published to the Warrington Guardian, Mr Mowat reiterates his support for HS2 that will take commuters between London and Manchester in less than an hour and a half. However he has brandished plans to motor through his Warrington constituency as a waste of money.

The MP has stated that although the line may only be in the constituency for a mile, the cost of building new infrastructure such as large viaducts, bridges and track curves will total £1bn. A “spur” of track will link the high speed track with the West Coast Mainline at High Legh near Wigan. Mr Mowat writes that there is no case for the part of track, saying that there will be little economic benefits. So why the sudden change?

The announcement of his new stance comes nearly twelve months after the MP told Warrington that the town would benefit from the high speed line, despite criticism for having no stop in the town yet ploughing through the Cheshire countryside. It could be said that the view to say “Warrington will benefit from HS2” is slightly disfigured, since the case has not been made 100% clear to the town. With no direct stop to one of the largest towns in the region, it becomes terrifyingly scary that high speed commuters will be subject to existing lines that run at substantially lower speeds and rolling stock that is below par for a leading transport country.

For those residents totally against high speed rail reaching the UK, Mr Mowat’s comments do little to bridge the divides. Whilst he may suggest the “spur” isn’t worth the money, there is no indication that the MP is to push new plans to ensure Warrington benefits or lobbying for a station in the town.

An extraordinary oversight that has been made when it comes to high speed rail in Warrington is the link to the Omega site at Burtonwood. Omega promises to be one of the largest and best business parks in Europe within the next three decades, costing £1bn and creating over 25,000 jobs. It is, therefore, right to question why the proposed high speed route does not come close to the site or Warrington as a whole. For what could be an incredible position in Europe, commuters travelling to the site will either have to travel to Manchester on the high speed link, depart south of the region, or travel on slower lines. Plans have gone on display in Warrington to create a new “transport hub” in the Chapelford Village. The station will still be a ten minute drive from the Omega site and will sit on the often delayed and slow Manchester – Liverpool line. It is difficult to see why investors and continental business leaders would locate to a site that will not offer a direct link to a rail project that will span a generation.

David Mowat writes that he has contacted the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to push his point that the small section of track will not be an economic benefit, stating “here’s one idea which will save £1bn straight away.” The leaders of HS2 have been told they must reduce costs. Whilst the protestors will still strain to have their voice heard over the politicians, in Warrington David Mowat is certainly keen to please his leader with both eyes open on the next general election.

To read Mr Mowat’s letter, visit http://www.warringtonguardian.co.uk/news/10835241.High_Speed_Two_should_happen___but_do_we_need_spur__MP_says/

The great railway robbery…again ?

Dr Beeching stands with the report into railway cuts.

Dr Beeching stands with the report into railway cuts.

Virgin Trains now operate the West Coast Mainline

Virgin Trains now operate the West Coast Mainline

Today is a historic day in British transport news. Not necessarily the best news, but on this day, 27th March, fifty years ago, Dr Richard Beeching announced huge cuts to the railway industry. The decisions included closing 5,000 miles worth of track, thousands of railway stations and cutting thousands of jobs. The reason? Because Beeching saw the rival, the car, bring passenger numbers down on the railways. Today, the need for railways is greater than ever before.

Many people see Beeching as a man who destroyed the rail industry in Britain. The operator of the railways, British Rail, were losing millions of pounds per year. In fact, it was previous governments who made the decisions to go ahead with the cuts. Beeching was simply the man behind the report into the government changes, not the man who wanted them to happen. Whether he pushed for the cuts to happens remains a matter of divisions.

Fifty years on and there plans to reinstate lines which were closed, including links between Edinburgh and the Scottish borders, Cambridge and Oxford, and at last the Portishead railway may reopen to serve the people of Portishead.

Today, however, the railway industry is a very different place. British Rail, the previously public owned operator, is no more and many of the main routes in the UK are privatised. These include the West Coast Mainline running between London and Glasgow now operated by Virgin. Whilst the route remains mainly untouched from the previous nationalisation eras, the railway network is now a huge multi billion pound business with private companies competing for the most money. Increases in rail fares are a reflection on the system which requires constant upgrades and maintainance work, whilst delays and disruption also cost millions to the operators and Network Rail every year.

Soon, however, the East Coast Mainline, currently in public ownership, is to be privatised, as the franchise goes up for sale. Previous operators, National Express, couldn’t afford to run the line and by 2009, one of the main intercity routes was back in the public hands. Now it seems that companies including Virgin and First Group will be competing for the right to run the Eastern railway route. A similar previous bidding process was run in 2012 for the West Coast Mainline – After 15 years operating the route, Virgin Trains were denied the rights to run the line after the government approved a £5.5bn payment bid from First Group, who stated they would carry more passengers than the previous operators. Soon after that announcement, the government backtracked, blaming financial mistakes. The bid was cancelled due to an investigation. Virgin Trains were reawarded the line to run until 2017 when another bidding process can take place. The selling of the East Coast Mainline will take place before 2015, along with fifteen other franchises, wiping out the remaining publicly owned rail networks.

And with that, the government also announced at the beginning of 2013 that the plan for a new high-speed rail link between London and the North will go ahead. It will take at least another twenty years to see the completion of the new line which will see travelling times between Manchester and London reduced by a half. The government says this will be good for business’, employment and tourism. However, many of the concerns of the people I have spoken to is that there is no need for a new line which will destroy local eco-systems. Many travellers want to see an investment in new rolling stock for the mainly short, urban journeys which are undertaken everyday. Passengers say that want value for money, something they believe they are not receiving.

Whilst the railway may be an expensive mode of transport, the need for the train is greater than ever. Many lines and rolling stock are well over capacity, resulting in what some customers describe as a poor experience. The fact is that train fares will continue to rise, next year being the eleventh on a row, and whilst some believe this is unfair, the government, train operators and Network Rail claim the money is spent on ensuring the railways are safe and properly maintained. Many more increases in fares will be needed for a real revolution of British railways.