Mon Sep 29th, 2008 at 11:22:56 AM EST
Whilst the Tories are most famous for privatising the British Railways organisation, it's often forgotten that they spent 10 years before that championing the motor car and air travel and denigrating and running down the finances of rail.
To that extent, this announcement at their party conference is somewhat surprising, and indicates that some things do seem to have shifted:
Tories plan £20bn 180mph rail link instead of Heathrow third runway | Politics | The Guardian
A third runway at Heathrow airport would be scrapped by a Tory government that would instead build a £20bn TGV-style high speed rail link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
In one of David Cameron's boldest moves on the environment, the party will today unveil plans to cut 66,000 flights a year from Heathrow by tempting passengers on to the first new rail line north of London in more than a century.
Theresa Villiers, the shadow transport secretary, told the Guardian last night: "This is a seriously green decision. A few years ago it would have been inconceivable for the leader of the Conservative party to say no to a third runway and putting the brakes on Heathrow expansion."
The announcement, on the second day of the party's conference in Birmingham, is designed to show that the party has not abandoned its "Vote Blue, Go Green" agenda in the face of the economic downturn. Gordon Brown has warned that some Tory green plans would jeopardise economic development, but Cameron hopes to blunt any Labour attack by outlining detailed plans to tempt airline passengers on to the railways.
Villiers will announce that a Tory government would spend £15.6bn between 2015 and 2027 (£1.3bn a year for 12 years) to build the new high speed rail link from London St Pancras to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. A further £4.4bn would be paid by the private sector.
Journey times on the 180mph line would be slashed: London to Birmingham would take 45 minutes instead of 80; London to Manchester 80 minutes instead of 125, London to Leeds 97 minutes instead of 125 and Manchester to Leeds 17 minutes instead of the current 55.
The Tories say the new rail link would cut flights from Heathrow by 66,430 a year - 44% of the capacity of the planned third runway. There are currently 36 flights a day between Heathrow and Manchester. The Tories hope to cut flights to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels as passengers are encouraged to use the new high speed rail line which would link up with the Eurostar service at St Pancras.