HS2 ‘could double rush hour seats in Leeds’

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The long-awaited HS2 rail project could “double the number of rush hour seats” for Leeds commuters, it has been revealed today.

Government ministers have today set out the huge economic benefits that the multi-billion pound improvements to the country’s rail network will bring – and said seat numbers will be boosted on busy services in the north including from Leeds towards Wakefield once the network is complete.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “Anyone travelling to work by train each day will know we desperately need extra capacity.

“Demand for rail travel is rocketing and our ageing infrastructure is struggling to cope. Building HS2 will create vital new capacity on our rail lines, giving inter-city customers a faster and more reliable service and freeing up space on local lines, making everybody’s journeys more comfortable and convenient.”

The announcement comes amid calls for work to start early on Leeds’ leg of the HS2 route to ensure the city’s economy does not miss out.

Mr Grayling will announce today the decision to award £6.6bn worth of construction contracts for the first phase of HS2 between London and Birmingham.

But Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake has warned it is vital the high speed rail project “is delivered in full”, as question marks have been raised that the proposed eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds could fail to materialise as the years tick by.

Mr Grayling is expected to confirm that the eastern leg will go ahead today.

But Coun Blake said: “We will continue to call for full confirmation of the HS2 eastern leg and for work to start on it early in order for the benefits to be felt by all areas in line with that commitment.

“HS2 offers transformational opportunities for the local, regional and national economy through job creation, better connectivity, shorter journey times, improved onward services to Scotland and freeing up capacity on existing lines, so is it vital it is delivered in full.”

The latest announcements come after business leaders met in Leeds last week and were told Yorkshire must make its voice heard, in order to guarantee the planned high-speed rail line is built in the region.

Coun Blake’s call has been backed by Conservative Pudsey, Horsforth and Aireborough MP Stuart Andrew, who said the city should keep fighting for HS2 and not “take anything for granted” ahead of the eastern leg being formally confirmed.

Mr Andrew said: “Every meeting and discussion I have had with ministers they have reassured me that the eastern leg is just as vital as the rest. It presents us with a huge opportunity that we haven’t had before to connect with other cities. We don’t know what will happen in the future but in the Yorkshire region we have got to speak with one voice - we can’t take anything for granted. We have got to keep fighting for it and we can’t rest on our laurels.”

MPs have already passed the law paving the way for phase one of the HS2 project from London to Birmingham and Mr Grayling will now publish a bill to deliver the next phase from the Midlands to Crewe.

In total, it is estimated that construction of the full route to the north west and Yorkshire will create up to 25,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships.

Ahead of the announcement of the first construction contracts being awarded, Mr Grayling said: “As well as providing desperately needed new seats and better connecting our major cities, HS2 will help rebalance our

economy.

“We will now get on with building the railway, while continuing to ensure affected communities get appropriate support and are treated with fairness, compassion and respect.”

Campaign groups concerned about the proposed rail routes have sprung up in Leeds, Wakefield and South Yorkshire since early plans for HS2 were introduced.

Coun Blake said the council has fought for impact on communities to be minimised.

She added: “We know there have been concerns around the route and we have strongly made the case for its impact to be minimised as much as possible, so we look forward to seeing the full details of the eastern leg later today.”

Early work on the rail routes are now underway and the main construction work is set to begin in 2018/19 after detailed designs are drawn up.

David Higgins, Chairman of HS2 Ltd, said: “HS2 was always designed to be much more than just a high speed railway and today we can see the opportunities it brings right around the country.”

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