Rail system a 'rich man's toy'
Railways have become a "rich man's toy" but factory workers will still feel the benefits of a new high-speed link even if they do not get to use it, the Transport Secretary has said.
Philip Hammond said action is needed to bring down some "eye-wateringly expensive" fares so that the whole network becomes more accessible to people on lower incomes.
It is unlikely that the socio-economic make-up of passengers would be much different on the new HS2 line between London and Birmingham than the West Coast Main Line, he told MPs.
However the massive investment would not only benefit passengers who enjoyed the faster journey times, he insisted as he gave evidence to the Commons Transport Committee.
"If you are working in a factory in Manchester you might never get on HS2 but you would certainly be benefiting from it if the sales director from your company is routinely hopping on it to jet round the world from Heathrow in a way that brings in orders that keep you employed," he said.
One study suggested average incomes in Birmingham could rise by £300 as a result of the link, he said. It is hoped that the high-speed line will be extended to other cities such as Manchester.
His comments came in response to questions about whether HS2 would be made affordable.
"Uncomfortable fact number one is that the railway is already relatively a rich man's toy. People who use the railway on average have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole - simple fact," he said.
He added: "The assumptions underlying the patterns of use of HS2 assume similar pricing to the West Coast Main Line, which I have said before ranges from eye-wateringly expensive to really quite reasonable, if you dig around and use the advance purchase ticket options that are available."
Mr Hammond tried to play down the significance of his "rich man's toy" comment after the hearing, insisting he had simply stated a fact about rail users and denying blaming high fares, but he came under fire from Labour and train user groups who pointed the finger at his decision to allow fares to rise an average 8% next year for pricing some people off the network.