I have to caveat this article with the confession that there will be an obvious bias. Hitachi is unashamedly supportive of well-planned high speed rail projects. We design and manufacture some of the world's fastest and most advanced trains, including the famous Shinkansen bullet train in Japan.
Hitachi also has a vested interest in the UK. We supplied and now maintain the UK's first domestic high speed train, the Class 395 train through Kent to St Pancras along High Speed Rail 1, which runs with a customer satisfaction rate of 93%. This 140mph train will shuttle spectators to the Olympic Games from St Pancras during London 2012.
We are also now in the advanced stages of planning to build a train factory in the North East of England. This factory will produce, first and foremost, the Hitachi Super Express train, the next generation of high speed trains for the UK. The Super Express will replace the ageing InterCity 125 fleet which currently operates on the UK's rail network, now over 35 years old.
The investment in the factory was never to supply just the Super Express train. It is based on the ability to manufacture a variety of rail vehicles, including high speed ones. Government plans to expand the UK's high speed rail network were part of the reasoning behind our decision to build the factory in the UK. We would combine our experience in Japan and Kent to ensure the HS2 trains are built in Britain. Then beyond the UK's high speed rail network, opportunities exist to supply trains to other countries.
The experience of high speed rail lines in other countries is that they massively expand the economy, simply because it makes travelling easier. But that's not where the story ends. Anyone who has been through St Pancras International in London recently can attest to the difference high speed European services have made to the station and the surrounding area. If London and the UK want to continue to reap the economic benefits of being a gateway to Europe, it needs to become a high speed rail hub, as well as an aviation hub.
At the same time, as part of an integrated air and high speed rail network, HS2 will ease congestion and grow regional airports by bringing them closer to the International hub airport of Heathrow - Birmingham will be only be 45 minutes away.
There is a clear need for extra capacity in the future. Rail passenger numbers continue to grow against a benign economic backdrop and it has been demonstrated numerous times that economic growth and passenger travel are linked. But high speed rail isn't just an economic issue, it's a local business issue and a personal issue. Our experience of the Class 395 train in Kent shows that businesses value speed, and with happy businesses comes economic growth. Passengers value high speed rail because it delivers better quality of life for many. It may be a cliché with regards to new railway lines, but short sighted decisions now could cost dearly down the line.