HS2 is perhaps the most controversial railway in the UK, despite it not yet existing. While there are some legitimate arguments against the project, overall I think that Europe’s newest high speed line will be a good thing, and I hope you, dear reader, will be satisfied with my explanation of this stance, following a run through of arguments against, starting with…
WE DON’T NEED IT
Yes, we do. Since 1997, passenger numbers have more than doubled on the National Rail network. The West Coast Main Line, between Rugby and London Euston, is the busiest mixed-use railway in Europe, and, without separating the faster trains from the mix, overcrowded misery for those using it will ensue. That is without considering the congestion and environmental problems of people switching to road transport.
You could perhaps argue that with the rise of video conferencing and other tools allowing for people to work from home, there is no need to expand transport capacity any further. I would counter that by pointing out that demand for rail travel continues to increase in the North, and that the poor rail service in the South is leading to people losing faith in the railways. We must improve things on the railways, or people will go elsewhere.
If we (and by we I mean the British) fail to invest in our railway, then not only is inconvenience caused but safety is reduced by people travelling on the roads. In the past 11 years, no-one has died as a result of a train accident on the railways of Great Britain. In that time, many more will have died on the roads, though I do not have the exact figures.
LET’S UPGRADE THE REST OF THE NETWORK
It may surprise some readers to learn that this is already happening. Readers from Derby will not be surprised in the slightest, but right across the country, capacity and speed upgrades are being undertaken, and unfortunately are failing to keep pace with demand. Electrification work has also taken place both on the Great Western Main Line and on the Midland Main Line, with varying degrees of success, but with a great deal of cost. Another innovation of recent times is digital signalling technology, that reduces the personnel required to signal trains and (at least in theory) increases the reliability of the network.
All this upgrading is entirely welcomed by me, but as I understand it, it does cause a number of problems. Overrunning engineering works have caused delays in the past, particularly a few Christmases ago, and look likely to continue to do so. One of the major causes of the present Northern timetable chaos is the late running of the Bolton line electrification, so many of the electric trains Northern have cannot be used, and the diesel trains used instead cannot be used where they are supposed to.
The point is that although spending money on the conventional network has its merits, it causes disruption to passengers, which never goes down well, and costs a great deal for what are often marginal gains.
IT WILL RUIN THE COUNTRYSIDE
This argument has rather more merit to it, considering that the new line will cut through the green and pleasant land which is England, of which I am a fan. One must, however, note the recent announcement by HS2 of a “green corridor” along Phase One of the route, with, among other things, 7 million new trees and shrubs. For particulars, I would use the link here. I would also point to the only High-Speed line currently in the UK, HS1, in Kent, which has managed to minimise its environmental impact through, among other things, moving the soil of ancient forests, to transplant new trees into.
One must also remember that motorways, road’s equivalent to a high-speed railway, are far wider and the emissions are also far more of an air quality problem than the railway would be.
PEOPLE WILL BE DISPLACED
This is true. Those that live on the actual route have been offered compensation, but those that live near it will have to endure the construction traffic for up to a decade. The construction work at Euston will be particularly disruptive, and go on for much longer than work on each phase of the route. I admit that this will not be a great thing for those affected, and that the railway will do little to help local communities, except perhaps providing work for local contractors.
However, this argument somewhat misses the point. During the construction of the major railways into London, whole streets were destroyed, whole suburbs displaced, and the character of the villages surrounding London completely changed. However, I suspect that no-one in our modern times would argue that connecting the country was therefore a bad idea and should never have happened.
IT WILL COST TOO MUCH
Yes, the cost of several tens of billions is very large, especially in an era when the emergency services are under pressure, as are schools, libraries and other public services are under threat.
However, building this high-speed railway will provide thousands of jobs for the next few decades, as well as the economic benefit of rapid travel between many of the UK’s major conurbations. Some may argue that business travellers won’t use a faster service, and will opt for the cheap-but-cheerful option of the conventional train. I urge these people to look at Birmingham New Street, and compare the passengers of the slow London North Western Railway service to those on Virgin’s Pendolinos – the suits opt for the quicker train.
IT WILL ONLY SERVE LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM
On the first count this is patently not true – Phase 2 of the line will serve Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Crewe, and a whole host of other places in the North. Furthermore, with connections to the conventional railway at Sheffield and Crewe, trains from HS2 will also serve destinations further North still, including those in Scotland, making the whole journey faster.
On the second count, even if it was just a line between London and Birmingham, this would still help people in the North. How, you ask? Well, with the fast trains from Birmingham removed from the busy section of line south of Rugby, there is now more room for trains from the North, which means more services for Manchester, Liverpool, and many other places on the West Coast Main Line.
Dear reader, I believe it is in the national interest to build this railway line. Even if you do not accept my rebuttal of the various points listed above, one must admit that this is a chance to show the world the very best of British engineering. For too long, we have been seen as the sick man of Europe, with no major high-speed railway of our own. Here, an opportunity presents itself, not just to rectify this shortcoming, but also to build the best railway in the world.
Many of the problems of conventional railways will be eliminated. Modern in-cab signalling will mean far more regular trains, and the new trains will be at least 200 m long, so plenty of room for everyone. Many will also be doubled to 400 m long, by coupling the trains together. Each station is being designed with care and attention, to make them pleasant places to be, not just a place to get on a train.
Alas, this is probably getting a little long at this point, so with that I shall wish you an excellent day, and ask you to pass this on if you know anyone who might be interested.