Ministers set for link probe

High-speed rail (HSR) is back on the government's agenda, transport secretary Geoff Hoon revealed to MPs last week.

In a statement, Hoon announced the establishment of a national networks strategy group. Its programme of work will focus on how to make the best use of existing networks, for example by electrification, as well as investigating longer-term solutions such as HSR.

Transport minister Lord Adonis will chair the group, which will draw senior partners from the Highways Agency, Network Rail and other government departments as required.

The group will start work immediately and build on the new lines activity being carried out by Network Rail. Adonis will report on progress early next year.

Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have said they would scrap Heathrow expansion plans in favour of HSR links.

But a spokesman for the DfT insisted that a decision on Heathrow would be announced by the end of the year and that proposing HSR as an alternative to a third runway is a false choice.

Meanwhile, 110 MPs have signed the early-day motion tabled by Labour MP John Grogan urging the government to consider alternatives to Heathrow expansion (Planning, 31 October, p6).

Anti-expansion group HACAN chairman John Stewart said: "The expansion plans do not need to be voted on but we are calling on the government to have the courage to put its proposals before parliament before taking any decision."

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