AHEAD of the next general election that must take place no later than January 28 2025 and is widely expected to held next year, HS1 Ltd has published its manifesto for growth in the rail sector in Britain and on the high-speed line that it operates between London and the Channel Tunnel.

HS1 Ltd holds the 30-year concession to own and operate High Speed 1, including its stations at London St Pancras, Stratford, Ebbsfleet and Ashford. In July 2017 it was acquired by a consortium of funds advised and managed by InfraRed Capital Partners and Equitix Investment Management.

The manifesto sets out specific policy interventions that a future government could make to ensure that the rail sector can recover to lead national efforts to deliver economic growth and decarbonise transport.

HS1 Ltd says that the rail sector is key to driving improved connectivity to economic hubs, delivering growth for the British economy and increasing the use of more environmentally-friendly forms of transport.

But with rail facing significant financial pressures and changing consumer travel habits as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent widespread industrial action on the national network, HS1 Ltd says that the sector “now more than ever” needs direct support to help it return to growth and create a rail system that is fit for the future.

The manifesto sets out nine key priorities for a new government. These include capitalising on a growing shift in public opinion in favour of environmentally-friendly travel by financially supporting trials of sustainability-focused schemes, such as a “green miles” rewards programme.

HS1 Ltd also says that connectivity between modes should be improved to provide better access to stations. Rail use should be incentivised through better ticketing, with the government working with the industry to develop new and innovative ticketing options that reflect new travel habits.

Turning to its core business of operating the high-speed line between London and the Channel Tunnel, HS1 Ltd says that the new government should enable frictionless travel, and alleviate risks associated with the introduction of the European Union’s (EU) Entry/Exit Scheme (EES).

EES will require holders of non-EU passports to complete longer in-person checks at the Schengen border. HS1 Ltd has previously said that processing time under EES will be over 130 seconds per passenger compared with just under 50 seconds at present.

The manifesto also calls for government support for new international routes from London and for new operators. Eurostar has been the sole international operator on HS1 and through the Channel Tunnel since the opening of the latter in 1994, and the aspirations of other operators such as German Rail (DB) and Renfe of Spain to enter the market have so far been unrealised.

To increase the number of tourists visiting Britain from outside the EU and to support the recovery of the domestic retail sector, HS1 Ltd wants the next British government to reintroduce the VAT Retail Export Scheme.

One of the casualties of Brexit, this scheme enabled retailers to refund the value added tax (VAT) paid on goods exported to countries outside the EU.

Returning specifically to HS1, the manifesto says that the new government should increase passenger numbers by committing to work with operators and to hold them accountable for growing traffic on their services.

The recovery of domestic services on HS1 should be supported by ensuring the long-term viability of the operator. Domestic services from London St Pancras are operated by Southeastern, which was taken under government control in October 2021 following the discovery of financial irregularities on the part of franchise holder Govia.

Concluding the manifesto’s nine-point plan is a call for the next government to provide HS1 with greater regulatory innovation as a test bed for demonstrating how greater freedom to innovate can benefit the rail network.

“With the rail sector being integral to boosting growth across Britain and achieving Britain’s net-zero transport objectives, it is absolutely fundamental that the next government prioritises the delivery of support to the rail sector that helps support its growth,” says HS1 Ltd CEO, Ms Dyan Perry.

“Through our manifesto launched today, we have set out the key policies the government must adopt to provide the necessary support to the rail sector to help it recapture growth once again.”