While I am sceptical of the rumours published in the fiercely anti-HS2 Spectator about plans to abandon the scheme, it is very important that the rail industry is prepared for such an eventuality. My scepticism is based on the fact that such a U-turn would require a complete recasting of the Coalition’s transport policy and would be on a far greater scale than other U-turns because plans for HS2 have been well in train for several years. Certainly the Libdems will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the scheme is retained – indeed given that the Tories have repeatedly ridden roughshod over them on so many other policies, it would be a real potential deal breaker
However, any hint towards abandonment must be met by well-prepared plans by the industry to ensure that there are cogent plans to deal with the lack of capacity in the rail industry. The real danger is that the government would suddenly decide that if the money is not to be spent on railways, it should be spent on airports and – heaven forfend – motorways. The expansion of Heathrow or other London airports has, however, nothing to do with the kind of transport demand which HS2 is supposed to meet. While motorway widening is possible, the expansion of the roads programme would be unpopular and expensive, and will not improve the connectivity between major cities which the railways can offer. The rail industry, therefore, must be prepared with a Plan B to show other ways in which the capacity problems can be resolved – and these mean more than just focussing on the West Coast main line.