In voicing his support for the HS2 project, the leading industrialist said considerable improvements could be made to the project, all achieved for no more than the equivalent annual cost of the NHS.
Sir Andrew made the comments at the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders’ reception in Parliament, which was hosted by HS2 minister Nusrat Ghani MP.
Quoting Ernest Bevin, when speaking of the Atom Bomb as Foreign Secretary in 1948, he said “We’ve got to have this thing, and it's got to have the Union Jack on it”.
“If Britain wants to have a UK supply chain for rail, and for HS2 specifically, it needs orders. The present situation where complete brand-new trains from Japan, Switzerland and Spain quite literally trundle past my Leeds factory, on lorries, devoid of any material UK content, is unacceptable and will lead to the eclipse of UK rail engineering industry.
“Department of Transport weakness in failing to insist on significant UK content is the cause of this. It is reasonable to expect UK taxpayers' money to be spent in the UK, if possible. I have spent £15m of my own money converting a steel foundry into a bogie frame and coupler manufacturing plant; it is state of the art and it needs orders if it is to continue.”
William Cook Rail, based at Leeds, designs and manufactures complex, high integrity components for blue chip rail customers all over the world. Customers include Alstom, Bombardier and Siemens, and William Cook Rail products are on trains in many countries, among them France, Germany, Canada, India, Australia and the United States.
HS2 Ltd, the Government-owned delivery company, has invited the following shortlisted, foreign-owned bidders to tender for the £2.75bn trains contract:
Bombardier Transportation UK Ltd in a joint venture partnership with Hitachi Rail Europe
Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF)
In his speech, Sir Andrew suggested a number of major improvements that could be made to HS2 in London and Sheffield. Invoking Ernest Bevin’s “I want to go down to Victoria station and buy a ticket to wherever I darn well please!’, he paraphrased this to substitute ‘London Central’ for ‘Victoria Station’. “The absence of a ‘London Central’ - a through station for HS2 trains in a cavern beneath the Euston Road, with travelator connections to Kings Cross and Euston, plus their Undergrounds, and connecting onwards end-to-end with HS1 - is one of the key flaws of HS2,” said Sir Andrew.
“The others key flaws are the absence of a Heathrow chord or spur, the 'cheapskate' tunnel beneath the Chilterns - it should be at least 25 miles long, to avoid any disturbance to the environment and consequent, justifiable, ‘Nimby’ protests - and the failure to use the former Great Central infrastructure through Sheffield, which is still in place and would allow the construction of a Sheffield HS2 station close to the city centre, with travelator connection to the present Sheffield station.
“All this could be done - the entire HS2 project completed - for no more than the NHS budget in a single year. The cost would be forgotten within a couple of years. Within five, people start saying, ‘Why did we wait so long? This is good.' Within 10, it is part of daily life and taken for granted.”
Planned spending for the Department of Health in England was approximately £124.7 billion in 2017/18.
Sir Andrew added: “Ask the SBB, the Swiss Federal Railways. Since constructing the 57km Gotthard Base Tunnel, at huge expense but in the process reducing train times from Milan to Zurich from five hours to two and a half, passenger numbers have quintupled.”