Andy Milne spells out four reasons why the rail industry and Britain needs High Speed Two.
As the surge of national optimism reached its crescendo at the London Olympics the great and the not so good were lining up to oppose the plan to build a high-speed railway between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. Leave to seek a judicial review of the consultation process could, if granted, delay the project by a further two years.
Grandees like Lord Parkinson, Christopher Chope and Stephen Norris have come out against the scheme saying the cost is unlimited and we would get more motorways for the £32 billion involved. ‘I am very sceptical about the whole thing. I see it as of limited value and almost unlimited expense,’ said Lord Parkinson.
Assumptions made by the trio are at best ill thought through and at worst defeatist and negative. Shame on those who misled you.
Railway supporters of the HS2 are keen to stress four basic arguments as to why High Speed Two should go ahead.
Building on Success
The rail industry is a success, a safe bet, a reflection of a returning Britain, confident and determined. Rail projects have consistently been delivered on budget and on time. This proven record makes it very attractive to invest in railways. We know the money is well spent. Yes, it’s true railway people would say that – wouldn’t we?
RailStaff is right behind High Speed Two because out readers and advertisers are the people who will build the link, crew the trains and operate the network. It means better careers, a boost to rail businesses and an engaging challenge for a resurgent rail industry. Railways have waited a long time for this. However the underlining reason comes back to the fact that railways are a success. Like our heroes at the Olympics we are outstripping our competitors. Britain has the fastest growing rail industry in Europe. We are now carrying almost double the amount of passengers we were a few years ago on half the amount of track. Rail staff manage this challenge day and night rising to it with Olympian aplomb. Lengthen all the platforms you like, the truth is we need more space.
Railways make economic, environmental and social sense. You get more bang for your buck…
The big gain from HS2 is the capacity for extra trains it creates. This is not just about shaving an hour off a journey time. HS2 will take conga reels of passengers off the bursting main lines elsewhere The scheme is as important to the beleaguered commuter who can’t get a seat on the 7.23 as it is to the inscrutable Chinese shipper with container loads of laptops bobbing about outside Felixstowe. More capacity will be created for the hugely successful rail freight companies connecting deep sea ports with the bustling commerce of Kirkgate Market, Arndale and the Bull Ring. These are goods currently careering around by lorry and jamming up the A14, M1 and M6 and a whole host of feeder roads.
Clean and Green
High Speed Two will take more traffic off the roads by freeing up paths for extra freight trains and suburban services. The net effect of this is to make significant gains in the struggle to reduce carbon emissions caused by road.
Plans to electrify much more of the network mean trains in future will be predominantly electric, green and clean. We need more of them not less. Building more motorways is an appalling idea. An eight lane motorway, plus hard shoulders and slip roads, is a much wider prospect than a railway. The rigor mortis of meadow wide tarmacadam creates eco-altering rain water run off chaos.
Motorways are certainly more expensive – even before you factor in the social and human cost of flooding and car crashes. Neither do they connect places very well. Robin Gisby over at Network Rail is fond of saying he can build several miles of railway for the price of a mile of motorway. Railways are thin, clean, green and safer.
Britain has an unhappy and persisting discontent between north and south. Wages are less in the north. Business and job opportunities are fewer away from the south east and the economic phenomena centred on London. The great effect of high-speed railways is to pipe this effect outwards. Look at high-speed railways abroad. Towns like Barcelona and Bologna have benefited hugely from the arrival of a high-speed railway.
Currently our high-speed railway runs to France. Lets not be churlish but how good it would be to be able to do for Leeds and Manchester what we are magnanimously doing for Calais. Various government have tried all sorts of vapid welfare programmes to narrow the gap between north and south. High Speed Two will do more to close it than any amount of public money spend locally. Railways make economic, environmental and social sense. You get more buck for your bang to quote Chope. High Speed Two will help unify Britain and build on the success of the London Olympics. Never mind the gap, m’lords, get behind HS2 and do something positive for your country’s future .