HS2: Good case for high-speed rail link, say MPs

HS2 train High-speed trains would travel at speeds of up to 250mph between London and Birmingham

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There is a "good case" for the government's HS2 high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham and beyond, a committee of MPs has said.

The £32bn scheme offers "a new era of inter-urban travel in Britain", the Commons Transport Committee says.

But its report says the route must be extended to Leeds and Manchester.

Opponents said the report left HS2 "in tatters" because MPs said they could not be sure it would bring the economic benefits ministers predict.

The committee's support for the rail link, which aims to cut the London-to-Birmingham journey time to 49 minutes, came with a number of provisos.

The committee demanded that ministers "firmly commit" to extending the high-speed link to both Leeds and Manchester before seeking Parliamentary approval for the London to Birmingham route.

The MPs also said what should have been a serious and factually-based debate had "too often been reduced to name-calling and caricature", and they demanded the government "desist from disparaging opponents of HS2 as nimbys".

Detail from high speed rail map

See maps of the route at the DfT website

They warned the government it would be "unacceptable and counterproductive" if investment in high-speed rail led to cutbacks in rail investment elsewhere.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening has said she will meet MPs who are concerned about the plans later this month.

Ms Greening says she will publish a full transcript of the 21 November meeting.

Her department received about 55,000 responses to its recent consultation on the rail plans. In a statement, Ms Greening said she was being "provided with detailed information on the issues raised".

'Dramatic improvement'

The Labour chair of the committee, Louise Ellman, said the scheme was affordable and would provide a "step change" in the quality and frequency of rail services between major cities.


There is something for all sides of the HS2 debate in this report.

The government welcomes the committee's support for the high speed rail concept, while critics suggest the report's many criticisms of the way the project has been presented thus far completely undermine the arguments for it.

Certainly, the committee concludes that there is a "good case" for going ahead with it, but goes on to suggest at some length that successive governments haven't quite made it yet; the economic benefits aren't completely clear, the carbon reduction benefits "don't stand up to scrutiny" while the impact on communities along the route is "substantial".

The committee does not quite demand that the government goes back to the drawing board, but it comes close at times, suggesting perhaps a slower service along existing transport corridors and a re-assessment of the route, the impact and the benefits of HS2.

It would offer potential economic and strategic benefits which conventional lines do not, as well as dramatically improving connectivity between major cities, Heathrow and other airports, and the rest of Europe, she said.

"High-speed rail may be a catalyst for economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and bridge the north-south divide.

"But the government must do more to promote local and regional growth strategies to ensure we get maximum economic benefit from high-speed rail."

The plans have strongly divided opinion along the 120-mile route between London and Birmingham, with supporters launching a "Their Lawns or Our Jobs" poster campaign, and opponents touring the country with a 10ft inflatable white elephant.

The MPs accept that the proposed route is likely to have "substantial impacts" on those living along it, adding that it is "unfortunate" that it crosses the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty.

They suggest that noise impact "may be less than feared" but urge ministers to try to build the new line close to existing transport routes if possible.

Claims by ministers that HS2 would reduce carbon dioxide emissions "do not stand up to scrutiny", the committee said.

However, the MPs said it would produce less carbon than an expanded motorway network or greater domestic aviation in the event of increased demand for inter-urban travel.

'Substantial impacts'

The MPs also said that a case for routing HS2 via Heathrow had not been set out clearly.

Jerry Marshall, chair of Action Groups Against High Speed Two (Aghast), said: "Given the partisan composition of the committee, we welcome the significant number of issues that its report has raised around the fatal flaws in HS2's business case.

HS2 opponents target Cameron

Every time he leaves his official country retreat of Chequers, the prime minister is met by an anti-HS2 poster campaign directed personally at him.

Along the road between the Chiltern villages of Great Missenden and Amersham, big billboards urge him to drop plans to build a high-speed railway line through this designated area of outstanding natural beauty.

"Pssst Dave," one matey message reads. "Are you sure you're on the right track?" Another asks: "Could it derail you?" In nearby Tory-blue villages, houses along quaint and quiet country lanes are lined with posters opposing the rail link.

Many locals feel so strongly about what they see as a major threat to their tranquil way of life that they are quite prepared to withhold their Conservative votes in future elections.

"These are that viable alternatives to HS2 have not been investigated thoroughly, that the value of potential productivity gains delivered by HS2 have been greatly inflated and, lastly, the technical feasibility of being able to run 18 trains per hour is a risk. This simply leaves the case for HS2 in tatters."

The Association of Train Operating Companies and the Campaign for Better Transport said the high-speed rail link was vital, but it should not come at the expense of investment in the rest of the rail network. Passenger Focus said that while HS2 was many years away, it welcomed the government's commitment to solving more immediate rail capacity issues.

RMT leader Bob Crow said the transport union supported the investment, but added: "HS2 should be publicly owned and run, and free from the greed and fragmentation of privatisation that has wrecked UK rail for a generation."

The Countryside Alliance welcomed the committee's emphasis on the environmental impact of HS2. "We hope that this recommendation extinguishes, once and for all, any charges of nimbyism directed at people who wish to see our most-cherished landscape preserved for future generations," added Alice Barnard, chief executive.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said the government needed to ensure HS2 was accompanied by wider planning to maximise long-term benefits for the environment and economy.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    How about using the £32 bn to buy more rolling stock for the rest of the network so that we don't have to stand up on trains where there are 5 first class and 4 standard class carriages... Tickets cost too much for the awful quality of service we receive on our rail network.

    Also @alanbristol: double decker trains would also mean having to raise every bridge on the route.


  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    What is really neeed is an upgrade to the total system which MUST include double decker trains on the main routes.

    And how many billions of pounds/hours of disruption to the entire transport network would that cause upgrading all the bridges and tunnels these trains would have to fit through?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Of course it's a jolly lovely idea to have a shiny new high-speed rail link. The problem lies in where the money is going to come from. It's going to condemn us to a lot of other substandard infrastructure elsewhere for a long time to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    There's a Brum-Euston service THREE times per hour right now via Coventry & MKeynes, plus a frequent service via Northants. To help fill the TWENTY, PREMIUM PRICE HS2 services per hour, those services will be cut by 2/3rds. It's a disgraceful downgrade of service for everyone south of Brum, because there's no sense travelling north to Brum to catch a "fast" train back down again - & its too dear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I'll continue to disagree with it. I'm sorry, but we don't need it and we certainly don't have £32bn to spend right now. When we stop making stupid cuts and ruining the jobs market in this country, then we should think again about this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Rich: "UK should build a high speed link between London and Scotland via Birmingham and Manchetser/Leeds as soon as possible."

    This. London to Birmingham doesn't make a lot of sense on its own, but it's high time for high speed rail to Scotland, with at least 150 miles between stops (more stops slow it down negating the point - which will be the next political bone of contention).

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Thjis project realy is an utter lemon. No one wants it; the money could be better spent on other more beneficial things put it is pushed through anyways.

    It is for reasons like these that people, in general, are losing all faith in politicians of any stripe to actually represent them. What a farce, a complete vainglory project for the out of touch politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    The reasons and numbers stated for why we 'need' HS2 simply don't add up. The most jarring being their expected growth in rail which ignores underlying trends and causes of rail use for a unrealistic exponential curve.

    My GCSE Maths statistics teacher would be ashamed.

    I'm left wondering if HS2 is going to go ahead because of MPs own vested interests or whether they've just been conned into it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Nobody wants wind turbines in their backyard, but they don't want global warming either.

    The trouble is mostly from Middle Englanders and because the new line will sweep through their cherished land. That is the middle bit of not so merry England in a line South from Birmingham down through sacred Oxford. That's where all the Tories and posh folk live.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    so £32bn for taking 15 mins of my journey to London, does that make economic sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Not the time ot spend this amount of money when we are about to enter a time period of austerity. It is centered around two population centres ( yes, the largest two), but what about the rest of the country. Surely this money would be better served to stimulate small business around the UK in the export sector. This would later bring money in that would then make the project affordable .

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Another example of how MPs in this country appear not to represent the people. Through this committee of MPs, Labour, as well as the Conservatives and Lib Dems, have shown that public opinion has no place in debates such as these.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    GOOD ilive miles from the route canr=t wait for construction to begin and it to be runningi will go on it if i can afford to ......"
    ... people in Bucks, Northants and Warks also live near the route, but would need a 2 hour car journey in either direction to be able to use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    This is a joke. Intended to keep business in the south east so more people can commute from further afield quicker. The rest of the country is to become a commuter belt for London.

    More money for London-centric policies, the rest of the country can go and get stuffed. Role on Scottish independence and we can be rid of this rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    London-Birmingham is already probably the best-served railway route in the country. I just don't get the point of spending billions upgrading something that's already pretty good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    A disgraceful waste of money at the expense of the environment, wildlife and the livelihoods of those unfortunate enough to live on or near the proposed route - and all to save a few minutes.

    Money has, yet again, talked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    500 pounds per resident of the uk (not household)

    hundreds of miles of countryside dug up (thin track but a high wall to cross if your a hedgehog or deer)

    some businessmen save half an hour

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    As others have said, this is a waste of money but is being touted by London based politicians, with minimal common sense or understanding of what the rest of the country needs, to pretend that they are doing something useful.
    What is really neeed is an upgrade to the total system which MUST include double decker trains on the main routes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    London to Liverpool only takes two and half hours at the moment. Swansea to London, my route, takes three hours. That is a bit tiresome.

    'Cranford' starring Judy Dench featured the controversy over railways in the early Victorian period. Fierce opposition particularly landed gentry, but the overall benefit to the nation eventually won the day. Travel by horse was the only alternative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    There is something very British about this.
    I wish I had a pound for every time I heard “Oh yes, I have a mobile phone, but I don’t want a radio mast near the village” or “Oh yes, we do want high speed broadband, but we don’t want that green cabinet in our street.”
    The key to HS2 is how many Tory marginal seats does it go through?


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