THE Government’s transport secretary insists HS2 will bring new opportunities to improve local services for Cheshire’s passengers.

Chris Grayling MP spoke to the Guardian at Winsford train station on Thursday, where he met with Conservative members on Cheshire West and Chester Council.

He believes that by moving express services that don’t stop in mid Cheshire off the old network and onto HS2, it would create ‘a whole load of extra space for local services’.

He said: “There will be people in this area who think ‘why on earth are we getting HS2? It’s not going to help the area at all’.

“But actually, we are standing at a station that gets an hourly commuter service either way.

“If you take the express trains off this line, put them onto a new route, suddenly you’ve got a commuter railway that can do far more.

“So as Crewe grows, and there is more opportunity to go further up the line, you suddenly get a commuter railway where today there is a limited services that is nothing like what people want for their regular commute.”

Mr Grayling’s support for HS2 is at odds with his former cabinet colleague Esther McVey, MP for Tatton.

At a meeting in Rudheath in November 2017, the then-Conservative whip questioned whether there would still be a need for HS2 by the time it runs through mid Cheshire towards Manchester in 2033.

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She also expressed concerns about the cost of HS2 – after a Government report in July 2017 suggested the bill could rise from an estimated £56 billion to £111 billion – but Mr Grayling insists the service will be worth it for Cheshire passengers.

He said: “If I say to an audience ‘how many people support HS2?’ quite often you don’t get that many people putting their hands up.

“But if I say to people ‘how many people want more commuter trains and more freight trains to get lorries off the roads’ every hand will go up.”

Mr Grayling believes HS2 is just one piece in the jigsaw of making a ‘proper, modern rail system’ in the north – something which mid Cheshire passengers would welcome.

Mike Amesbury, Labour MP for Weaver Vale, last month called on the transport secretary to resign following a ‘litany of failings’ – including Northern’s failed promise of a second train an hour between Manchester and Chester, and last May’s timetable chaos.

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Mr Grayling insists that finding capacity on the north’s existing rail network is proving ‘a real challenge’ – but he is hopeful commuters will not see a repeat of last May’s shambles.

“A huge amount of effort has gone in across the whole industry to try and make sure this year goes smoothly,” Mr Grayling said.

“I am hopeful that this time round things will move forward. The timetable change on Northern is not nearly as big as last year, but I am hopeful that the industry will get its act together and try to change the timetables smoothly – as it did in December.”

Calls for Mr Grayling to step down were echoed by other opposition MPs last week after the Government paid Eurotunnel £33 million in a settlement over the awarding of an ill-fated contract for transporting goods across the English Channel in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit – to a company with no boats.

The £13.8 million contract in question, which was awarded to Seabourne Freight, was eventually cut last month – but Mr Grayling insists he and the Government are doing all they can to help prepare the nation for Brexit.

“What I would say is that what I am doing and what we are doing in Government is making sure we are ready for all eventualities,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned right now, the most important thing the Government can do is – in parallel – work to get a deal with the EU but also make sure that we are ready for all eventualities.

“If we end up leaving without a deal – it is not what we would wish to happen, but we are ready to do so – and that is what any responsible Government should do and any responsible minister should do.”

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A 3.1 per cent fare increase was introduced on Britain’s railways in January – even in areas hit badly by the timetable chaos.

Consumer groups Which? and Transport Focus hit out at the fare increase after a difficult year on the north’s railways – but transport secretary Chris Grayling insists the rise was necessary to meet increasing costs.

“The fare [rises] are there because costs rise every year,” he said.

“I wish they didn’t but pay rises push up costs, other costs rise. I never have any desire to see fares go up on the railways but it is the reality as the cost of living increases.

“What we have done is to make sure that the amount of fare increases is limited to the rate of inflation.”

Middlewich residents are still waiting for the return of passenger services on the Northwich to Sandbach line – and former Cheshire resident Mr Grayling is keen to see the efforts being made for the railway’s return come to fruition.

“At the moment the [Cheshire and Warrington] Local Enterprise Partnership is doing work on this,” he added.

“I’m very supportive – there are some capacity limitations there because it is only a single-track line – but I’m personally very keen to see some services back on the mid Cheshire line.”