26/09/2013 11:48 BST | Updated 26/09/2013 11:54 BST

New HS2 Boss Sir David Higgins Does Not Know When First Trains Will Run

File photo dated 26/10/12 of network Rail chief executive Sir David Higgins who is set to step down, according to rail industry sourcesFile photo dated 00/00/00

Network Rail chief executive Sir David Higgins, who has been unveiled as the next chair of High Speed Rail 2, has endured an embarrassing grilling in which he failed to answer when the first trains would start running.

Interviewed on Thursday morning on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, the rail chief, who will be paid £591,000 a year when he takes over the HS2 project in 2014, warned that that the project should be completed "quicker".

The spiralling cost for the rail link from London to Birmingham has caused political controversy, as it is expected to hit £50 billion, with Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls saying it had been "mismanaged".

However, Sir David exposed himself to awkward questioning when he corrected BBC interviewer Sarah Montague's suggestion that the first trains would start in 2026 with the reminder: "It's not finished until 2035!"

Pressed on when Sir David knew the first trains would start running under HS2, the rail boss, who takes over HS2 next year, avoided answering.

"I start in January...!" he protested, before adding: "I don’t understand why it needs to take so long."

Clearly Sir David's explanation helped as the BBC had to move on for an update on the weather, so he was spared further grilling. His lapse received little sympathy from transport expert and Labour London Mayoral candidate Christian Wolmar.

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, Wolmar said: “Sir David has been touted around for this job for the last three months. He has given interviews on HS2 and clearly wants to discuss the plans

"It is rather surprising that he hasn’t grasped such a basic fact.”

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