Government accused of 'great rail betrayal' as minister refuses to commit to HS2 reaching Manchester

19 September 2023, 09:37

Labour shadow minister Louise Haigh has accused the government of 'the great rail betrayal'
Labour shadow minister Louise Haigh has accused the government of 'the great rail betrayal'. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Labour has accused the government of a "great rail betrayal" as a transport minister refused to commit to extending HS2 to Manchester.

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A document emerged last week that the government could save as much as £35 billion by scrapping the next stage of the railway. The government has already spent £2.3 billion on stage two of the railway.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said after the report surfaced that it looked as if the Tories were "considering cutting the North of England out in its entirety".

Downing Street has since refused to guarantee that HS2 trains will run from the Midlands to the North West.

It comes after it emerged that Downing Street was drawing up new proposals to scale back HS2 to save £4.8 billion, resulting in the rail line never reaching central London.

Read more: HS2 'may not run to Euston' with passengers getting off six miles away in new plans to scrap part of troubled rail line

Read more: 'Huge disruption for zero reward': Sadiq Khan leads backlash against HS2 delays after 'costs soar to £71bn'

Chris Philp is unable to confirm HS2 Birmingham to Manchester leg

In response to questions from MPs about whether high-speed trains would ever run to Manchester, junior transport minister Mr Holden said that "spades are already in the ground on HS2 and we remain focused on its delivery".

Labour's transport spokeswoman Ms Haigh said that the current Birmingham to London route is quicker than what commuters would get if HS2 stopped in west London.

"First they slashed Northern Powerhouse Rail, then they binned HS2 to Leeds, then they announced the line would terminate at Old Oak Common for years to come, and now it looks like they are considering cutting the North of England out in its entirety," she said.

"If this is true, what are we left with? The Tories' flagship levelling up project that reaches neither the North of England nor central London.

Railway engineer says if we 'stop or pause' the production of HS2 it will further damage our economy

"The most expensive railway track in the world that thanks to terminating in Acton will be a longer journey between Birmingham and central London than the one passengers currently enjoy... A great rail betrayal."

Mr Hunt refused to commit to scrapping the link between Birmingham and Manchester and beyond over the weekend.

He said: "With any big infrastructure project, let alone the biggest infrastructure project in the country, you would expect us to have conversations about managing cost overruns.

"I'm not going to be drawn on the details."

Reports emerged over the weekend that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to end the line six miles west at Old Oak Common rather than in Euston.

HS2 railway viaduct under construction near London
HS2 railway viaduct under construction near London. Picture: Alamy

The scale back would save the government at least £4.8 billion, the price the government estimates that it could take to upgrade Euston to take other HS2 trains and link it to the line under construction.

This would mean that passengers would need to alight at the West London station and then connect to the Elizabeth Line to transport them into the centre.

This announcement backtracks from previous remarks made by Jeremy Hunt in January, when he insisted the HS2 line would run to central London.

It has already been announced there is a delay in the construction of the Euston site as well as other elements of HS2.

In March 2023, it was announced that HS2 would be delayed for two years due to "soaring inflation".

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