Train usage has doubled in the last 20 years and we simply do not have the capacity to cope on existing lines. Yes that is right - we as a nation take twice as many train journeys as we did when the service was nationalised British Rail. But, on any interpretation, our rail network is bursting at the seams, and our train operators are struggling to provide the service and capacity that we now expect from our train service. That is the context which HS2 needs to be judged within.
To those who say that we could improve our rail network simply by upgrading existing lines I would say two things: if you accept that you need new rail capacity you might as well build a good train line. Secondly, upgrading existing lines is very expensive, very slow, and does not produce the long term benefits of a second line. Look at the cost and problems of West Coast Mainline upgrading.
Every large infrastructure project from the M25, HS1 or whatever has its doubters and heavyweight opponents. Only the famous Humber Bridge has failed to reap the benefits. Indeed the original builders of the railways faced opponents of the construction of the West Coast Mainline and East Coast Mainline in the 19th century.
In 1832 Parliament rejected the initial bill [for the West Coast Mainline] because some people objected. They argued that canals and rivers were all you'd ever need for long-distance travel, anyway. Indeed, our case for change is even more stark today; we are a country in a global race for jobs, investment and infrastructure. At the start of 2007, China didn't have a single high speed rail line. Today it has over 6,000 miles in service. By 2015 that will be 11,000 miles, while we have just 67 miles, from London to Kent and the Channel Tunnel. All the Northern Local Authorities and the NECC back the project, and whilst Ed Balls and some North East MPs are against, we cannot rail [forgive the pun] against this country's lack of infrastructure and then get upset when it costs money and takes time.
We in the North have still got to ensure that the details of the Northern extensions to Newcastle and beyond are worked through properly. But on the fundamental principle of the need for HS2 I am satisfied and I will vote for it in the division lobbies this week. Certainly our grandchildren will look back in wonder at those who opposed the M25, HS1 + HS2 and ask what planet were you on? The world is changing. We need to change with it.