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Transport Secretary Justine Greening Announces Go-ahead for UK High-speed Rail Network

Posted on the 11 January 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Transport Secretary Justine Greening announces go-ahead for UK high-speed rail network

High-speed rail unpopular? An anti-HS2 rally. Photo credit: djim, http://flic.kr/p/9KyjLP

The UK government has given the go-ahead to the first stage of a controversial £32.7 billion high-speed rail network. The high-speed network, known as HS2, is eventually intended to link northern cities with the Channel Tunnel, slashing traveling time to Paris. The first stage of the project is due by 2026 and will cut the journey time between London and Birmingham, the most populous UK city outside the capital.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening insisted HS2 was crucial to the improvement of Britain’s transport infrastructure. According to the BBC, the British Chambers of Commerce said businesses around the country would welcome the high-speed network.

But not everyone is thrilled by the prospect of speedier links with the birthplace of Ozzy Osbourne, Barbara Cartland and Neville Chamberlain. Opponents of the HS2 claim the scheme is a waste of money, particularly at a time of public spending cuts, and that it will serve only the wealthy business community. Critics also claim HS2 will cause irreversible damage to surrounding countryside, with The Countryside Alliance speaking out against the project.

Time for ambition. “Since Japan launched the first commercial high-speed rail service 47 years ago, Britain has trailed the world rather than lead it. Our lack of ambition has cost us dear,” wrote Transport Secretary Justine Greening in The Daily Express. Greening insisted she had introduced measures that would minimise the impact of HS2 on the countryside, but argued that, ultimately, the project had to go ahead “to put us on a high speed track to a more prosperous future.”

“We need to revolutionise travel away from roads and planes, but pumping £32bn into high-speed travel for the wealthy few while ordinary commuters suffer is not the answer,” Craig Bennett of Friends of the Earth told the BBC.

Government must commit. “Britain’s problem is not addiction to big projects but excessive circumspection about them,” said a Guardian editorial, pointing out that the UK lags behind other European nations in terms of transport infrastructure. According to the editorial, the biggest danger is not that the project will go ahead, but that the government will lose the will to spend more after the first stage is completed: “Pressing on will be costly. But doing nothing – or leaving the job half done – could be far more costly in the long run.”

“I love railways, and HS2 gives rail in Britain a 21st century future,” said Michael McCarthy in The Independent.

No to HS2. The argument that the UK should have HS2 just because other nations have high-speed rail networks is ridiculous, wrote James Delingpole in The Telegraph, particularly when you take it to its logical extreme: “China, for example, is estimated to execute as many as 5,000 people a year. Their economy is much bigger than ours and much faster growing, so clearly we need to bring back the death penalty now.” Delingpole argued that all HS2 will achieve is to allow “rich commuters to get from Birmingham to London half an hour earlier than they would otherwise have done”, and so the project is a waste of money that could be better spent improving airports.

Has David Cameron lost his mind? The Daily Mail’s Clive Aslet wondered whether the UK prime minister has gone mad: “How else can one explain his perverse attachment to a high speed railway line that some of his staunchest (and richest) supporters don’t want?” Aslet predicted that the project will either never actually go ahead or will be constructed on a much lesser scale.

Uncertain benefits. Christian Wolmer questioned the government’s analysis of the benefits of HS2 in The Times (£). According to Wolmer, a large part of the case for high-speed rail rests on the idea that it will save time for business travellers, but “many people now do their work while on trains and so the value of the time savings may be illusory”. Wolmer suggested the money should be put towards introducing more trams and keeping rail fares down, in order to encourage people not to drive.


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