"We need HS2 more than ever," said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling "for the capacity it will bring, the space it will create elsewhere on our transport network, the boost it will give to the economy and the jobs it will create."
Mr Grayling was delivering the keynote address at the Transport Times conference HS2: phase one and beyond today.
He said the overriding argument for HS2 was not speed but the capacity it would create – both the new line itself and the capacity it would free on the existing network.
When the West Coast main line was built, he said, Britain had a population of 15 million, and there were 60 million rail journeys annually. Today the population ins 65 million, making 1.7 billion journeys.
"We're facing a rapidly approaching crunch-point," he continued. "Imagine what Britain in 2033 will look like without HS2," he said. The population will be over 70 million, the number of journeys is predicted to be 40% greater, and freight will have doubled. "We will be relying on a network whose components in places will be nearly 200 years old, built for a population a fifth of the size."
He added that the proof of the effect transport could have on the economy and regeneration could be seen all around the conference venue at Canary Wharf. HS2 could have the same effect at towns and cities on the route, from Crewe To Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds "and dozens of others". It was already having an effect, with Burberry deciding to site a new factory in Leeds because of HS2.
He also announced an additional £40m for communities and to support businesses and local economies along the route, and a £30m road safety fund.
He said: "Let me be absolutely clear: we back HS2. The case is stronger than ever." And though the UK was not a pioneer of high speed rail, the line would be "state of the art".
He paid tribute to the contribution of the next speaker, HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby, and said:" HS2 is ready to happen. It's going to happen and it's going to make a massive difference to the UK economy."