High speed rail: Patrick McLoughlin to reveal new routes

  • 10 December 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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Patrick McLoughlin
Image caption Patrick McLoughlin says he will announce new high speed rail routes in the new year

Patrick McLoughlin is a cabinet minister who doesn't quite fit the mould.

He's the only senior Tory to have worked at the coalface. He's also a former aviation minister, who candidly admitted he didn't like flying. And he's probably the only secretary of state in this coalition government with a ready smile on his face.

Maybe that's because the Derbyshire Dales MP can't quite believe his political luck.

After years in the political shadows of the Conservatives' whips office, David Cameron appointed his chief whip as transport secretary in the summer reshuffle.

Patrick McLoughlin hasn't looked back. The Department for Transport these days is not political backwater.

"There's a lot going on. An awful lot," he told me.

His in-tray includes the row over the West Coast rail contract, which rattled Sir Richard Branson; the high speed rail project - HS2 - which has infuriated many Home Counties Tories; and whether to expand Heathrow airport, and upset Boris Johnson.

And there's the issue of Bombardier, the UK's last remaining train maker.

As a Derbyshire MP, he was fully aware of the local concerns when a multi-million contract for new trains for Thameslink went to Siemens of Germany. Half the workforce at Bombardier's Derby factory was axed as a result of that "lost" contract.

"The Thameslink contract was first put out in 2008 and here we are towards the end of 2012. There's been a lot of slippage on it," he said.

"So I'm determined to make sure we are much more open with such contracts in future, and that the bidding process is more open."

So is there a future for British train making?

"Oh yes. We've got the Hitachi plant in the North East, which is going to employ 700. Bombardier got an order the other week from Southern. There is huge investment planned for the rail industry in this country." he added.

He talked with relish about a renaissance for the railways.

There'll be many children hoping for a railway set this Christmas. If Patrick McLoughlin missed out as a child, sets don't come much bigger than HS2 to get your hands on.

Soon after the Twelfth Day of Christmas, he'll be announcing the route of the next phases of the high speed route from Birmingham through the East Midlands to Leeds.

"HS2 is a very exciting project for the East Midlands," he told me.

"I'll be announcing early in the New Year, where the line will go from Birmingham to Leeds and from Birmingham to Manchester. And I think for the East Midlands - for Derby and Nottingham, and Leicestershire- it is a very, very important development."

"It's not just about the fastest journey time to London, it's about infrastructure investment. It's also about increasing capacity.

"HS2 will be the first new railway north of London in a hundred years. You see high speed trains across the whole of Europe and they are making a huge difference. They'll make a huge difference to us when HS2 is completed."

The location of the HS2 station in the East Midlands will also be revealed. There's been speculation of a rail hub near East Midland Airport or Toton Sidings between Nottingham and Derby.

The transport secretary wasn't going to confirm and deny the rumour mill. That'll have to wait until his New Year announcement. But it does rule out speculation that the East Midlands might not have a HS2 station at all.

He did confirm that completing electrification of the Midland Main Line, often regarded as the rail network's Cinderella line, is definitely going ahead.

"That's going to take place between 2014 and 2019. It'll mean better and lighter trains, and a faster service to and from St Pancras," said the transport secretary..

Carrying the red cabinet boxes as secretary of state is a long way removed from carrying coal when he worked underground at Littleton Colliery near Cannock.

He first came to national attention when he spoke at the Tories' annual conference in 1984, in support of working miners who defied Arthur Scargill's NUM strike.

After that, it was straight up the political escalator; and in 1986, he won the West Derbyshire by-election. He was soon in government .

But what of that comment, when he was aviation minister, that he didn't like to fly.

"At the time, I was a nervous flyer. Let's put it that way," he told me.

"I'm a little less nervous about it now."

For this cabinet minister, that added confidence could easily apply to running a high profile government department. His political career is taking off.

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