A rail nightmare: Darling speaks out over rising HS2 costs

Alistair Darling when he was chancellor
Alistair Darling when he was chancellor
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HS2 will cause a ‘nightmare’ for the rest of the country’s rail networks, former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling has warned.

Mr Darling, also a former transport secretary, supported the controversial scheme when Labour was in government but says he has changed his mind because of the spiralling costs.

Mr Darling is the second high profile Labour figure to question HS2 in recent months, with Lord Mandelson warning in July it could be an ‘expensive mistake’.

Earlier this year the budget for the line, which cuts through Aylesbury Vale, was increased from £32 billion to £42.6bn, with the Institute of Economic Affairs warning this week that £80bn may be needed to fund it.

The Department for Transport said HS2 is ‘absolutely vital’ for the country and denied it would affect other transport projects.

Mr Darling told the BBC the extra expense will mean future governments will not be able to fund other lines, with negative consequences.

He said: “My fear is, if you build this visionary project that you will have a nightmare on the rest of the network because you don’t have the money to spend on it.

“My experience as transport secretary is that if you do not spend money on upgrading, improving the track, improving the trains, then the thing will simply, eventually start falling apart, as it did by the mid-1990s.”

Mr Darling used the example of the East Coast Mainline, saying it will need money spending on it in the near future.

A Dft spokesman said: “Without HS2 the key rail routes connecting London, the Midlands and the North will be overwhelmed.

“HS2 will provide capacity in a way that will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of economic benefits.

“But it will not be built at the expense of other transport projects. We plan to invest over £56 billion on roads, rail and local transport between 2015 and 2021.”