High Speed Rail - Don't Panic Yet
Some of today's headlines suggest the Conservatives are threatening to pull out of supporting plans for a high speed rail service between London and Birmingham. This is not correct, from what I have been able to discover.
It began with a story in the Guardian, which says Conservatives have "refused to back a proposed 200mph London-to-Birmingham rail route". This is true, but the key word there is "route". It refers to a report suggesting a precise proposed route, setting out lines on a map to within five metres in urban areas and 25 metres in the countryside. (The Guardian makes this clear later in its story).
Refusing to commit to those exact proposals is not the same as backing out of building the new rail line. Strictly speaking, Labour is also "refusing" to back the proposed route, in as much as Transport Secretary Lord Adonis says nothing has been decided yet, and won't be until there is a full public consultation.
Of course, what we don't know is exactly how either party plans to pay for the new line. It's reasonable to be a little sceptical about whether it will ever be built, but today's spat about the route doesn't change anything.
This isn't the first time Conservatives have expressed doubt about the Government inquiry into the exact route. Speaking to The Birmingham Post last August, Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers said it would be only one of the studies a Tory government took into account, and pointed out that her proposals - for a national service stretching to Manchester and Leeds - were different to Labour's, which initially would take in only London and Birmingham (although Labour says this would probably be only the first stage).
What doesn't make sense is her refusal to even look at the Government's report. Lord Adonis has offered her a sneak preview, but she declined.
Some reports suggest the Conservatives are worried about upsetting voters in constituencies where the new high speed line will be built. Perhaps so but, simply by promising to build a high speed line, both parties are effectively promising to dig up parts of the picturesque Chilterns, where the line is expected to run, whether or not they specify the exact route.