South Yorkshire’s high speed rail route will ‘drain funding’, says former transport secretary

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The high speed rail route set to run near Sheffield has come under fire from another senior Labour Party figure amid warnings soaring costs could turn it into a ‘nightmare’.

Alistair Darling, who served as chancellor and transport secretary, said the economic benefits were ‘highly contentious’ and there was a risk funding would be drained from the rest of the network.

However, current Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin defended the scheme, insisting it still had Prime Minister David Cameron’s backing and there was a cross-party consensus in favour.

The Government has estimated HS2 - which will see 225mph trains running from London to Birmingham by around 2026 - will cost £50 billion, including rolling stock.

But Institute for Economic Affairs research earlier this week suggested the eventual bill would be £80 billion.

In an article for The Times, Mr Darling said: “It is time to revisit the case for HS2. It runs the risk of substantially draining the railway of money vital for investment over the next 30 years.

“My experience in government also makes me suspicious of big projects that can easily run out of control.”

He added: “The economic benefit that is claimed will come from this is highly contentious. The business case depends on an assumption that passengers aren’t productive - that is, that they don’t work on the train.

“That may be true on a commuter train but not on long-haul intercity services. Arguably, more work is done on the train than in the office.”

Mr McLoughlin said: “I’m not sure cross-party support is weakening. The Labour Party are very much in support of HS2 and certainly when I met the core city leaders where HS2 will serve, all of them Labour Party members, they are very much in support.

“This scheme is very important to the infrastructure of this country and all big infrastructure projects are controversial. No doubt Alistair Darling knew that when he signed it off as chancellor of the Exchequer.

“The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have been totally in support of this project and there is no problem with support that I’m receiving from other colleagues in Government.”

Former business secretary Lord Mandelson voiced opposition recently and shadow chancellor Ed Balls insisted the party would not sign a ‘blank cheque’ for HS2.