Cameron a “passionate believer” in High Speed Rail UPDATED

The Prime Minister has stated that decisions to proceed with projects such as the HS2 high-speed rail scheme are “not always popular”.

Picture shows Prime Minister David Cameron leaving Leeds Civic Hall after a conference on the planned HS2 rail links. PIC / Steven Schofield

Mr Cameron declared himself a “passionate” believer in high-speed rail and that going ahead with HS2 was the right thing to do.

He was speaking in Leeds today (Oct 27) where he backed endorsed plans by HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins on the second phase of the £50 billion HS2 project and also plans for an “HS3” to improve east-west rail journeys across northern England.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Believed to be costing around £7 billion and supported by Chancellor George Osborne, HS3 would see journey times slashed between northern English cities.

David Cameron

There was some drama during the visit as a man was arrested as Cameron exited Leeds Civic Hall following the launch.

A man was apprehended by police and the PM made his way to his car and quickly released.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman tweeted: “A 28-year-old local man was briefly arrested after he came close to the PM’s group, who had just left the Civic Hall.

“No threats were made, and after the man’s details were checked, he was de-arrested and allowed on his way.”

Sir David Higgins

A later tweet said the man was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Earlier Mr Cameron said: “I am passionate for high-speed rail. It is important for our country that high-speed rail works for Britain.

“These sort of decisions - decisions about our country and the future of rail - matter. They are not always popular. HS2 is not always popular. But I profoundly believe they are right.”

Earlier Sir David had said his plans for HS3 were “a start of a conversation”.

He said: “This is not just a single project. It’s more than the eye-catching journey-time reductions. HS3 will give northern England rail services twice the capacity and much more reliability.”

Phase one of HS2 involves a new high-speed line from Euston in London passing through Tory heartlands in the Chilterns to Birmingham, with Sir David saying that its completion would be in 2027.

Phase two would see the line extended north from Birmingham in a Y-shaped route going to Manchester and Leeds, with Sir David saying this would be completed in 2033.

The project is strongly supported by the Government but is bitterly opposed by some councils and residents along the phase one route.

Sir David’s report said there was a need to take forward both legs of the proposed HS2 Y-network as the alternatives would not bring the same capacity, connectivity and economic benefits;

For HS3, the journey from Leeds to Manchester could be cut from today’s average of more than 55 minutes to somewhere between 26 and 35 minutes and the number of trains could be doubled.

For phase two of HS2 Sir David’s recommendations include:

* To continue with the planned route into Manchester city centre via the airport - keeping open the option to add a new airport station;

* Need to review the best station solution for Leeds to include provision for increased east-west services through the city;

* The HS2 line should be extended to Crewe by 2027 - six years earlier than originally proposed;

* A new station at Sheffield Meadowhall remains the best way to serve the wider South Yorkshire region, though Sir David recognises Sheffield continues to argue for Sheffield Victoria;

* That the East Midlands hub should be near the proposed site at Toton but that its precise location needs further work.

Sir David said: “Improving connectivity is vital if Britain is to compete in the knowledge economy in which this country has a competitive advantage, but in which ease of travel is an essential element.

“On the back of new transport infrastructure, science investment and civic leadership, we are well on our way to turning the northern powerhouse into reality.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander also welcomed the report, as did House of Commons Transport Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman.

She said: “HS2 is important strategic infrastructure but must be linked with improvements in the classic rail network to bring maximum benefit.”

The Rail Delivery Group, representing Network Rail and rail operators, said the report “underlines how HS2 will become the backbone of Britain’s growing railway”.

Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said HS3 would be even more expensive per mile than HS2, while the Institute of Economic Affairs said HS3 was “little more than a costly vanity project”.

Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said: “Hard-pressed travellers in the north will judge David Cameron on his actions, not words.”

Leaders of councils in northern England welcomed the report, with Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, describing HS2 as “the key to transforming the future economy of Leeds and the north”.

The RMT transport union said it was “cynical in the extreme that the cheerleaders behind the announcement are threatening to devastate (northern railway) jobs and services”.