Scrapping the proposed High Speed 2 rail line and building a cheaper alternative would condemn passengers to 14 years of “hellish delays”, the Government will argue this week as it launches a fresh attempt to make the case for the troubled scheme.
Ministers will try to get back on the front foot amid growing cross-party criticism of the £50bn project to connect London and Birmingham by 2026, with links to the North of England seven years later. The Coalition is braced for a Conservative rebellion against the scheme in a Commons vote on Thursday, while Labour hostility is hardening.
The Opposition is considering cheaper options for a new north-south connection, including boosting capacity on existing lines or even reopening a route closed nearly 50 years ago.
But a Government report, due to be published tomorrow, will claim that work to upgrade existing lines would lead to 14 years of weekend closures on the East Coast, West Coast and Midland Mainlines, crippling all three routes between London and the North. It will also say that the disruption could virtually double the time it takes to travel from London to Leeds at the weekend to four and a half hours.Some might argue that the upgrading of existing lines would have to go ahead anyway, regardless of what happens with HS2. Nor is it necessarily the case that weekend rail travel in recent years has been free of extensive delays.