(Original script, may differ from delivered version)
Thank you for the chance to open today’s Transport Times HS2 conference.
It’s a pleasure to join you in Canary Wharf.
Now, I expect most people here already know my stance on HS2.
When the new Prime Minister asked me to serve as Transport Secretary, I used one of my first public statements to make clear that we are backing this project.
We need HS2 now more than ever.
We need it for the capacity it will bring on the routes between London, the West Midlands, Crewe, Leeds and Manchester, as well as the space it’ll create elsewhere on our transport network.
We need it for the boost it will give to our regional and national economies.
And we need it for the jobs it will create, and for the way it will link our country together.
The case for HS2: capacity
So you can take it from me today, HS2 is going ahead.
Yet one of the advantages of being new to the job is that I can take a fresh look at the evidence for why HS2 is needed.
If you were to believe some of the wilder comment in the press about HS2, you’d conclude that the case for construction is marginal at best.
But if you take the time to examine the facts and figures that make up the case for HS2, you’ll find they are arrestingly stark.
The line that HS2 is designed to relieve – the West Coast Main Line – was assembled in stages between 1830 and 1880.
By the 1850s, it was possible to take a direct train from London to Glasgow, and the West Coast Main Line became essentially the line we know today.
In that decade, the UK population was 15 million people.
Those 15 million people made 60 million rail journeys in 1850.
It’s an impressive figure.
But it’s dwarfed by the numbers our railways cater for nowadays.
Today we have a population of 65 million people and last year we took 1.7 billion rail journeys.
So a lot’s changed since the 1850s.
As a society we’re more prosperous and we want to travel more, much more often.
Yet our railways haven’t received the upgrades to match our increasing demand for travel.
We haven’t built a new line north of London for over a century.
We’re still using a network inherited from a Victorian population less than a quarter the size of our own.
That our railways can just about cope with the demand we place upon them today is testament to the vision of Victorian railway builders who went before us, and to the long-term pay-off that serious investment in infrastructure can deliver.
Yet we’re facing a rapidly approaching crunch-point.
In the last 20 years alone, the number of people traveling on our railways has more than doubled.
And demand is set to increase still further.
Already, on some lines at some times, it can be tough to get a seat, including the West Coast Main Line.
And it’s not just about crowding in the carriages.
It’s also about crowding on the tracks themselves.
Our rail network is the most intensively used of any in Europe.
A national transport artery as important as the West Coast Main Line still suffers from the need for freight, local and intercity trains to be carried on the same two tracks.
The fast trains catch up with the slow trains and, unable to get past, chug along behind.
So, imagine what Britain in 2033 would look like without HS2.
The forecasters tell us that Britain’s population will have hit 72 million.
Rail journeys will have risen by a further 40%.
And rail freight will have doubled once more.
Yet in that future without HS2 we’d still be relying on a rail network whose central components are in places nearly 200 years old, built to compete with the stagecoach and the horse-drawn canal barge, and for a population almost 5 times smaller.
What will it be like to travel by train then?
What will it be like in the decades that follow?
Can anyone seriously consider these facts and say that major investment in a new line – the first for a 100 years – is unnecessary?
That is, if you like, the negative case for HS2: the capacity problem that HS2 is designed to solve.
The case for HS2: regeneration and jobs
But there’s also a positive case: the way that HS2 will transform our country.
And that case draws upon the unique power of transport investment to change towns, cities and communities for the better.
If you want any proof of what transport can do, look at this neighbourhood.
The docks built here allowed for the movement of people and goods around the world on a scale never seen before in history.
And they made Britain prosper.
And now Canary Wharf’s second incarnation as an engine of the economy was fuelled by fresh investment in transport.
When the Docklands Light Railway opened in 1987, it was one of the major catalysts for the regeneration of this area.
Further investment followed with the Jubilee line extension in 1999.
And soon this will be bolstered by the Crossrail line.
But it is not just here.
We’ve seen the regenerative effects of new high speed rail at St Pancras.
Just as we have further afield, in cities such as Bordeaux and Utrecht.
We want the same effect at Euston, Old Oak Common, Curzon Street, Crewe, Toton, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds – along with the dozens of other towns and cities who will be better connected as a result of HS2.
Yet we don’t have to wait until HS2 opens to see signs of transformation in our cities.
It’s already started.
When Burberry announced a £50 million investment in a new factory in Leeds, the Chairman said, and I quote:
One of the great advantages of Burberry’s new facility being in the centre of Leeds is being so close to the new HS2 station.
It will have a significant and positive impact on the way we operate as a business for many years to come.
And HSBC cited HS2 as one of the reasons it’s moving its retail headquarters from London to Birmingham, along with a thousand jobs.
Just this Friday, the train company Alstom announced it will build a new factory and training centre in Cheshire, employing 600 people, from which it plans to bid for contracts on HS2.
Yet it’s not just blue chip companies planning for the arrival of HS2.
The leader of Cheshire East Council, Councillor Rachel Bailey has said that:
The difference HS2 is already making to Crewe is tangible. In schools it is helping to lift pupils’ horizons, particularly on skills.
So we’re already marking out the career paths to help people who want to work on HS2.