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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps signaled a major overhaul of the £ 100 billion high-speed rail line 2 between London and the north of England, saying ministers could no longer “blindly follow” a plan dating back to the United Kingdom. last Labor government.
Ministers are expected to announce soon a delay of the eastern part of HS2 between Birmingham and Leeds, with priority given instead to an east-west rail project between Leeds and Manchester called Northern Powerhouse Rail and dubbed HS3.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Shapps endorsed Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Rail Hub, a program to improve east-west links in this region and provide access to HS2 in Birmingham.
“Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail are things, they were invented, they weren’t when HS2 was first designed,” he said. “We have to work these things together. Are we doing things the best way and in the right order? “
The Treasury wants to reduce the HS2 line, which connects London to Birmingham, before splitting into two sections. The western part to Manchester will be built, but the eastern part to Leeds is threatened amid concerns the cost could exceed £ 40bn.
Shapps said ministers must “go back and ask more questions” after a report by the National Infrastructure Commission, a government advisory body, proposed last year to delay Leeds’ stage in favoring priority for rail links between towns in the north of England and the Midlands.
Boris Johnson is expected to argue that Northern Powerhouse Rail is a faster way to get fast trains to Leeds, via Manchester, than the HS2, which is not expected to be completed until 2040.
A minister told the FT that the government’s ‘leveling out’ program to reduce regional inequalities would be better served by connecting towns in the north than by spending £ 40bn on the eastern part of HS2. Shapps will present a new integrated rail plan in the coming weeks.
When asked if the eastern part of HS2 would be removed, Shapps said: benefit people.
Meanwhile, the transport secretary will launch a competition between rail towns on Monday to become the headquarters of Great British Railways, a new public body that will oversee train travel from 2023.
He said: “We are looking to locate it outside of London in a place with rail history and connectivity as well. . . I’m sure York and Crewe and other famous rail towns will want to bid on this.
Great British Railways will replace Network Rail as the body responsible for rail infrastructure and oversee the awarding of contracts to private rail operators.
Shapps said he didn’t know how many people would work in the new headquarters, but revealed he had descended on a logo for the organization: he would embrace the famous British Rail “double arrows” symbol, but with a Union flag background.
He hopes Great British Railways will transform the network, changing the culture of the industry so that customers come first, reducing costs and “reaping the best from the private sector”.
The body will collect revenue, set timetables and fares, and be responsible for moving towards a net zero railroad. Shapps wants Great British Railways to do away with repetitive public service announcements on trains, which he says is driving passengers crazy.
The transport secretary insisted that the railways were rebounding after the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic and that “the era of the huge subsidies, the £ 12bn to £ 13bn in 2020- 2021, is over “. He said the number of rail passengers was at around 60% of pre-Covid levels.
Shapps has been concerned in recent days about the fuel crisis and the shortage of truck drivers, but said the “economy will do well” and the transport industry is making the necessary adjustment to higher wages.
“I actually think higher wages are welcome,” he added, saying it was “crazy” that the road transport sector was supported by taxpayer support through the Universal Aid Credit. social supplementing wages that were reduced by cheaper foreign workers.
Shapps said he didn’t think the 5,000 short-term visas offered by the government to foreign truck drivers “will be the thing that saves the day.” Instead, higher wages and better working conditions were the answer. “I don’t want to undermine the system anymore,” he added.
Meanwhile, on aviation, another industry hit by the pandemic, Shapps was optimistic that workers placed under the government’s leave scheme would find jobs.
He said travel restrictions were lifted, with fewer Covid-19 tests and more countries falling off the government’s travel red list. “We are seeing some companies starting to actively rehire,” he added.