Stuart Andrew MP: Ambition must lead us on rail route to future

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FOR too long, we have been trying to move our 21st century population round the country on a transport system that was built by the Victorians.

For too long, we have tinkered with the system – at a very expensive rate – to try to improve it, but that only brought disruption and did not solve the problem.

We still have a major and pressing capacity problem that is simply not going to go away.

It is going to get worse, and we ignore that fact at our peril.

Routes that are crucial to counties, cities and towns such as Yorkshire, 
Leeds and Pudsey are going to be overwhelmed.

We have already heard about the doubling of train journeys in the past 15 years. In 2011, during the morning peak, an average of 4,000 people had to stand as they travelled on the routes into Euston, and 5,000 had to do so on the routes into Birmingham.

There are currently 115 passengers for every 100 seats, and the situation is going to get much worse.

We need to act now to increase the capacity on our railways. As a country, we cannot afford to leave the economic future of cities such as 
Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham to an overcrowded railway that will be almost 200 years old by the time HS2 opens.

If we are going to deal with the problem, why not be ambitious about it? Let us do it properly.

Let us not tinker with it; instead, let us get back that Victorian foresight and ambition and make our railways something we can be proud of.

The only way we can do that is by building a new line, so let us use the best technology and make it a high-speed line.

After all, it is rather embarrassing that Turkey will soon have 1,500 miles of high-speed rail when we have just 67.

HS2 will bring us the capacity that we need. It will double the number of seats between Leeds and Birmingham, it will transport the equivalent of the population of Cardiff every day, and it will run up to 18 trains an hour.

Over the years of debate on HS2, those who are against it have said that it will have an impact on the regions that it is trying to serve, and that the money would be better spent on local services.

But this is not an either/or; it has to be both and, frankly, it is both. The northern hub is being funded in full, the line between Manchester and Leeds is being electrified, and new stations are opening up all over the place.

The core cities are predicting the creation of 400,000 jobs. During the construction phase alone, the project will provide more than eight million pay packets. HS2 will also link our cities to help them to do business.

At the moment, trying to get on a train going from Birmingham to Leeds is a nightmare.

Let us see business working together in those two great cities. As we have heard, 70 per cent of the jobs created will be outside London.

We have heard about the costs and the business case, and I shall not repeat those points, but we need to maximise the potential.

I welcome the decision to create a task force, led by Lord Deighton (former chief executive of the Olympic organising committee Locog), to keep this major project on track. He has a great record in this area.

We must ensure that British industry and the British work force are ready to deal with these changes.

I want the best for my constituents. I want them to benefit from the best opportunities that the country has to offer, just as those in many 
constituencies in the south have been able to do.

We cannot wait; this is urgent. Let’s get ambitious.

• Stuart Andrew is the Conservative MP for Pudsey who spoke in a House of Commons debate on high-speed rail.