U.S. Markets closed

Government defends its HS2 high speed rail project

A placard in the shape of a white elephant, planted by an activist from the Midlands, stands on top of a hedge in a field near to the planned location of new HS2 high speed rail link as it passes by the village of Hoo Green, northern England January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Phil Noble

LONDON (Reuters) - The transport secretary said the UK's planned HS2 high-speed rail network was "essential" to the country after a group of MPs criticised the project.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday said the Department for Transport (DfT) had failed to present a "convincing strategic case" for the project, which will run from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, costing around 43 billion pounds.

"This is planning for the future of our railways, it is essential we have good connections between our main cities," transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin told BBC radio on Monday.

The PAC said there was no evidence that HS2 would help economies around Britain and criticised the government for allowing the project's "costs to spiral".

The government increased the project's estimated cost by 10 billion pounds to 43 billion pounds earlier this year. The Institute for Economic Affairs think-tank said the cost of the scheme could rise to as much as 80 billion pounds.

McLoughlin rejected the PAC's findings and said without HS2 Britain's major rail routes would be overwhelmed by rising passenger numbers.

The first phase of the scheme between London and Birmingham is due to open in 2026 with the extension to Leeds and Manchester scheduled to start from 2033.

Critics of the scheme say it will lead to a loss of homes, cause severe environmental damage and disruption to many communities.

The government is due to publish a report this week claiming that HS2 will generate billions of pounds for the British economy.

(Reporting by Rhys Jones; editing by Sarah Young)