Politics Magazine

HS2: Still The Way Forward?

Posted on the 16 May 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

Britain has been neglecting its railways since the time of the Beeching Report half a century ago. Compared to France’s TGV and also Deutsche Bahn, both of which are owned by their respective governments, our rail system is the most expensive, the most crowded and the most limited in terms of span and speed. High speed rail routes are just one manifestation of transport policies which effectively promote sustainable and efficient travel.

By contrast, the UK has done little to reduce our dependency on cars. With the closure of branch lines in the 1960s, much of the country is dependent on buses for public transport… And this is riddled with many problems of itself. Returning to trains, we have the shocking situation in which a short link between central London and the Eurotunnel via Kent represents the entire high speed rail (HSR) network in the country. In fact, I agree with the claim that London-centric economic activity is inevitable where transport links to our regional centres are flimsy and slow at best. If nothing else, all road based transport out of London is painfully slow due to intense congestion on every possible route.

That is why I gave a cautious welcome to the HS2 proposals, that would eventually see routes from London to Birmingham (supposedly to be complete by 2027) and from there routes to both Manchester to the west and Leeds to the east. Though ideally we’d see links to Bristol (probably through to Wales), and also to Edinburgh too in the long run, it seemed like a good start. It would become possible to live in Birmingham and commute to London in just 40 minutes, due to speeds of up to 250 mph. Manchester will be a mere 68 minutes from London. It would have once sounded like the stuff of science fiction, and the importance of it should not be underestimated.

Unfortunately, the National Audit Office has just released a report saying that many of the claims made by the Coalition about the benefits of the scheme have little evidence to support them. The 100,000 new jobs the scheme is supposed to create could well be created anyway; there will be a £3 billion funding gap; and there is little margin for error in the timetable. Nevertheless, the project is still likely to provide good value for money, avoiding to the report. Now is a good time to ask if we we wish to continue development even if economic benefits are limited.

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