Claims that the planned HS2 high speed rail line might be scrapped have been dismissed as “complete nonsense” by the Government.
And leaders in the North of England insisted the project must go ahead.
Some critics of HS2 (High Speed Two) have suggested it could be axed with the money instead spent on a scheme to improve rail services in the North, called Northern Powerhouse Rail.
But the argument was dismissed by people who actually represent the North’s major cities.
Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “HS2 is vital to our region’s long term prosperity, and to cancel it would be a betrayal of the North that would have decades long consequences.
“Cancelling HS2 would undermine everything the Government has set out to achieve with the Northern Powerhouse.
“It is absurd that while one part of Government is considering the multi-billion pound case for London’s second new railway line with Crossrail 2, another part of Government is looking at cutting proposed links to the North.”
HS2 runs south to North, linking London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. It includes new stations in Birmingham city centre and near Birmingham Airport.
Northern Powerhouse Rail would include a number of rail improvements but the most significant is a planned new rail line running east to west, linking Manchester and Leeds.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham backed HS2, saying that both rail projects were essential.
He said: “Be wary of this HS2 debate. They’re trying to make us choose between good North-South or East-West links. The truth is the North needs both.”
An investigation by Channel 4 reported that the predicted cost of HS2 has now reached £60 billion, and said some Government Ministers want to scrap it.
Channel 4’s Dispatches reported that ministers have secretly allocated £6bn a year to build the line over the next ten years. This is the same amount Network Rail spends per year on maintaining and upgrading the entire rail network.
The same cabinet source said ministers were considering saving costs by only building HS2 to Birmingham, and are “actively considering” axing the entire HS2 scheme.
But speaking in Sheffield, Rail Minister Andrew Jones said: “Already there are 7,000 jobs supported by the programme; already over 2,000 businesses have HS2 contracts; and already the diggers are on the ground in Birmingham. Building has started.
“And in case you have seen any recent newspaper stories claiming that the northern stages of HS2 might not be built – they are complete nonsense.
“HS2 was conceived, developed and is now being delivered as a national railway – but in particular to improve links for the north and midlands.
“So our commitment to HS2, the full network to Manchester and Leeds, remains undiminished. As the Secretary of State said recently, to do otherwise would be a betrayal of the north.”
With promised speeds of 250mph, the HS2 high-speed train line from London to Birmingham will be one of the world’s fastest passenger trains.
Two major new stations will be built in the West Midlands.
One is at Curzon Street, in central Birmingham, and the other is an “interchange station” near Birmingham International Airport, outside Solihull.
Journey times between Birmingham and London will be cut from one hour 21 minutes to 49 minutes.
But the biggest benefit of HS2 is that it will provide new capacity on the rail network. The West Coast Main Line is currently used by a number of different services – not just the inter-city Virgin Trains services usually associated with it – and lack of capacity in the track make it impossible to add new local services and freight services without cutting the number of inter-city trains.