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Keep the fat cats' paws off HS2

Transport unions launch campaign to keep new rail link in public hands

The new HS2 superfast rail line must be publicly owned so it does not become a "rich man's toy," transport union TSSA said yesterday.

The union made the call as the Bill for phase one of the £50 billion project was published.

TSSA leader Manuel Cortes called for the line to be kept in the public sector with affordable fares for everyone.

He said: "This is being paid for by every taxpayer in Britain and everyone should be able to afford to travel on it.

"We do not want a repeat of our current system, whereby someone earning just £10,000 a year is subsidising the likes of billionaire tax exile Sir Richard Branson to provide sky-high fares on the West Coast line.

"This must not become a rich man's toy, solely for the benefit of businessmen. If we are serious about ending the north-south divide, it should be kept in the public sector for the benefit of the public who will pay to build it."

The TSSA call was supported by rail union RMT, which said: "It should be built and run in the public sector free from the rip-off merchants who have held us back for 20 years under privatisation."

There was strong support for the Bill, which it is thought Labour will vote in favour of - despite opposition MPs airing concerns about rising costs.

General secretary of train drivers' union Aslef Mick Whelan called for the plans to be extended.

He said: "We believe Britain needs not only a new high-speed rail line but a high-speed rail network.

"We would, ideally, like to see HS2 run the length of the United Kingdom, being built from Scotland and the south at the same time, meeting in the middle, linking HS1 (the Channel Tunnel high-speed link) and going via Heathrow."

However the 51M Alliance - a group of councils opposed to HS2 - described it as an "economically and environmentally disastrous white elephant," while anti-HS2 protesters demonstrated outside Parliament.

The alliance complained that the timing of the Bill is "indicative of a lack of respect for the views and the rights of the electorate" because officials have given "local authorities and residents a very small window of opportunity in which to respond - just 35 working days."

A Department for Transport spokesman rubbisheds the allegations and claimed the consultation time had in fact been extended.

He said: "The public will have 60 days to respond to the environmental statement consultation. This compares very favourably with the 21 days and 28 days that are the minimum requirements for planning applications."

RMT general secretary Bob Crow was adamant that differences should be put aside for the future of Britain's transport network.

He said: "The British public should be under no illusions. If there isn't significant and sustained investment and modernisation of Britain's railways over the coming years, services will grind to a halt under the sheer weight of passenger demand."

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