If you don’t know what HS2 is, it stands for High Speed 2, a new high-speed rail project that will cut down travel times between London and Birmingham and beyond. If you’re wondering where HS1 is, that connects to Kent and via the Eurostar to, well, Europe. And Disneyland. HS2 is a domestic high-speed rail network and has been shrouded in controversy for years. That has now returned to the frontline of political debate with the announcement last week from the Prime Minister that HS2 would in fact be going ahead after a government review.
Those who oppose it point to the spiralling costs which have gone through the roof since the project was announced. Even Johnson has agreed that the project has been grossly mismanaged and that improvements have to be made. The environmental damage caused by the construction of new lines capable of taking the rolling stock for the services has also been highlighted, pointing out that many of the wooded areas on the proposed routes pass through will be spoiled and damaged beyond salvaging. Issues of noise, carbon dioxide, compulsory purchases of land and properties and disruption of Grade II listed sites, six in total, have all be raised by critics of HS2. It will split communities in two, one village is literally being split in half. Some councils have come out against the plans, citing that it will cost them huge sums of money. Residents are commuters in the Midlands and the North have questioned the necessity of a new high-speed line, rather than investing in and improving the current regional lines, which have been underperforming for a number of years.
Supporters of the project point to the job creation that the plans will bring as well as the vast improvement to travel links across England, particularly from London to the Midlands and the North. The increased capacity will match the trend of rail passengers increasing, as well as provide better connections across the region and onward towards Scotland. The chosen route into the west of London will also improve transport links to Heathrow Airport, and the possibility of linking with the Great Western Main Line and Crossrail will provide access to East London and the Thames Valley. HS2 is also being touted as one of the ways to help rebalance the UK economy and to stop London being so much the focus. Towns and cities where stations for HS2 will be built are predicting that their city and town centres will be transformed by the investment. It is also being seen as a project that will display that Britain can succeed and modernise post Brexit. All three of the major parties support the building of HS2, with individual exceptions of course. The Scottish government also supports the plan in principle and there has been talk of negotiations with Westminster about a possible connection to cut the travel time from Scotland to London to under three hours.
Now, I live in the south of England. The transport links around where I live are really not bad. I live literally about a minute away from a train station on a main line to London and I can pick up a train to Brighton easily. So, unless I was going up north to visit family or to go to Scotland, I wouldn’t really use HS2. That could change depending on where I might find a job, but for my current situation, I would never use HS2 on a regular basis. And to be honest I’m not really trying to offer an opinion on HS2 to you. I just want to highlight people’s differing opinions on this topic. It is always going to be a hard balancing act with something like this. With the necessity of protecting the environment and to become as carbon neutral as possible, smashing through acres of woodland to build new trainlines that would introduce a lot of noise and carbon dioxide pollution doesn’t seem like a great way to begin the government’s pledge to bring Britain’s net emissions down to zero by 20-whenever it was. On the other hand, it is vital for the country to have good public transport connections covering as much of the country as possible. And while the project has been badly mismanaged, no one is denying that, that doesn’t mean that the project is now without merit. It’s not going to be cheap and it never was going to be cheap. We’re talking about a multi-year investment to provide better public transport for as many people as possible. This is going to be used by passengers for business trips, people travelling to see family if they don’t want to drive a long way and for tourists to be able to see more of Britain than just London.
I don’t know what the right way to go is. Maybe passengers in the North would be better served by improvements being made to the existing services, and we would save some of England’s most historic and beautiful landscapes. Or maybe a high-speed line just serving England would bring in needed investment as well as serving as a job creator all along the line. I guess we’re all about to find out.