This country was the birthplace of the railway, and the men who designed and built it were among the most celebrated figures of the Victorian era. But the network fell into decline as the 20th century progressed, and with it we lost our position among the most pioneering railway nations. Railway engineers were more concerned with patching up old lines than building new routes.
But that’s all about to change. It is time for a new generation of engineers to rekindle the spirit of the Victorians by helping us deliver HS2 - the biggest transport project in this country for generations. The Government has now begun the search for a town or city to host the prestigious new High Speed Rail College. And as a Yorkshire MP, I naturally want to see the county submit a strong bid.
The college will provide British engineers with the specialised training and qualifications they need to work on HS2 and other future infrastructure projects across the country. Using a hub and spoke’ model, the college will develop links with skills providers throughout the UK, ensuring the benefits are spread across the economy.
From 2017, the selected town or city will play host to some of the brightest engineering and construction minds of the future. As part of the bidding process, we want towns and cities in Yorkshire and elsewhere to explain why they are best placed to shape and develop these young talents; why they can provide an excellent environment for students; and how they can help newly qualified railway engineers to find the right job after completing their studies.
Yorkshire has a long history of manufacturing, and today it is a leading centre for engineering education, with strong ties to industry. Examples include the Advanced Manufacturing Park at Rotherham, home to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre - a partnership between the University of Sheffield and Boeing. In addition the University of Leeds and Dyson also have a partnership which helps the company sustain its competitive edge.
With HS2, Britain can show it has the skills and technology to build the best railway in the world. We have already delivered High Speed 1 on time and on budget, and Crossrail - the biggest infrastructure project in Europe - is on schedule to open in 2018. HS2 is expected to help create around 2,000 apprentices and thousands more jobs in design, construction and operation. But the bottom line is if we don’t continue to invest in our future engineers, we will face a skills shortage, and that would seriously hinder our ability to deliver major infrastructure schemes. The new High Speed Rail College would see engineering skills and know-how passed on to the next generation. If a bid from Yorkshire is successful, it would firmly bolster the county’s position as a centre of engineering excellence.
With two main HS2 stations in Sheffield and Leeds, Yorkshire will be among the biggest beneficiaries of high speed rail. Journey times to the Midlands and London will be slashed, and capacity will be transformed.
As long distance services transfer onto HS2, capacity will be released on the existing network, allowing more frequent commuter services. Other improvements could include faster services between Bradford, Wakefield and London. There will also be more room for local trains and more space for rail freight, relieving congestion on Yorkshire’s roads. Of course some cities will benefit more than others. That’s the case with almost every transport scheme ever delivered. But the economic impact of HS2 won’t be restricted to Sheffield and Leeds. It will build over decades, and become part of the fabric of Yorkshire.
We have a massive opportunity with HS2. Not just an opportunity to improve our transport system, but also to rebalance our economy. That’s why it is supported by the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, and council and business leaders in the North and Midlands. Seven out of 10 jobs created by the new network will be outside London.
Any project of this magnitude takes time to deliver - a frustration for those who want more capacity and faster services now. But for industry the timeframe will offer stability, creating demand over a prolonged period.
Universities across Yorkshire and Humber already contribute around £3.6bn to the economy and play a critical role in generating jobs and driving enterprise. But the High Speed Rail College would further benefit Yorkshire’s economy, with significant numbers of students and skilled professionals settling down locally.
The High Speed Rail College has a very exciting future - as will the town or city which successfully bids to become its home. For Yorkshire, which already has such a big role to play in the HS2 story, winning the race to attract the college and train a new generation of engineers would be a great achievement.
Transport Minister and MP for Scarborough and Whitby