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.

Analysis

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
    +4

    Comment number 88.

    It seems that quite a few of the comments from the supporters seem to be along the lines of "It's new therefore it's good." Come on, please think and be able to make a better judgement than that! Stuff isn't good and needed simply because it's modern, or not up to it simply because it's old (or vice-versa). Please learn to think beyond "Ooh, shiny!"

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 87.

    Just spent 1 hour on my slow, cold and noisy commuter train. Need some new tracks, as they are notebly decayed and a somewhat newer train. Just want one with regular heat. Hate freezing on a train for an hour.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 86.

    At a time when public services are declining for lack of money it is ludicrous to suggest spending this amount of money on what is a political ego trip.

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 85.

    If you really want to promote economic growth, why not spend the money on building a nationwide ultra high speed data network to offer state of the art internet access to every address in the UK? Railways are yesterday's technology. £30bn for 30 minutes off the travelling time between London and Birmingham should fail any cost/benefit analysis.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 84.

    I don't see how a two-track high speed line dug into a cutting will ruin the countryside. It'll take up less room than a dual carriageway, never mind a full-blown motorway. As for the noise, it only lasts about 5 seconds max before it speeds off into the distance - much preferable to a motorway's continuous drone.

    I hope this last chance for joining the 21st century isn't sunk by vested interests

  • rate this
    +35

    Comment number 83.

    Shouldn't this be used to sort out the rest of the countries railways - you know the bits that don't go to London? You can already get trains to London from Birmingham that have a single stopping point. Spend this money on actually improving the WHOLE rail network.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 82.

    How about using the money to just re-nationalise and upgrade our existing rail network so that it does not cost the same to go 100 miles on a train as it does to get a jet airliner to the Canary Islands?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 81.

    ADD to my post 60 i live 3 miles from the route before people say it wont affect me i really cant wayt start bit monday

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 80.

    What a waste of money just to save a few minutes. Why did Mr cameron say he was for the envirement, when he clearly is not. He want thousands of houses built which will need roads, lighting etc when we have a million empty empty properties already. Now very expensive rail network that many will not be able to afford. Last time I went on a train due to a birth of a grand child the cost was huge

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 79.

    No point in such a short link, it needs to travel the length of the country to be of value, at least to Glasgow. There also needs to be a similar run Edinburgh-Plymouth so that the whole nation can tap into the potential benefits.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 78.

    Surely the money would be more wisely invested in sorting out the railways we have first and create a secure base to build upon before we just create more railways and more chaos. Anyone else that commutes in to London via train every day will probably agree with this.

  • rate this
    -11

    Comment number 77.

    "In addition to the connection between London and Birmingham, there are also plans for a Y-shaped extension to Manchester and Leeds, and possibly further north, to be completed about 2032/33"

    Above is a good example of why Scots have growing contempt for the UK.

    It's our oil that's funding UK's transport system, yet Scots appear to be last to see any of the benefits of our own oil.

    C McK

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 76.

    Love all the "experts" on here! This project would only be worth it if they extend the line to yorkshire as well. A hell of a lot of people work in the north during the week and commute back south for the weekend - Just see the A1 on a Friday night.

    Since the HS1 has come to kent, house prices have increased and so has our local economy. So many do-gooders don't have a clue about infastructure!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 75.

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

    Actually if this comittee bothered to look at what happened in France, they will find that it will actually INCREASe the north-south divide

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 74.

    The problem is that HS2 is mostly going to benefit MPs and civil servants. It has the added bonus of ticking the "doing something" and "green" boxes. It really must be stopped. The insanity associated with it is shown by those who argue it starts in the North - they need to be reminded the Spanish are closing HS routes due to lack of passengers. We just can't afford this stupidity.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 73.

    If HS2 was going to be as unobtrusive as any other railway then it would merely be a waste of money. The only reason the WCML is over-capacity is because too many of the wrong sort of services are run on it (frequent under-sized trains instead of less frequent proper ones). HS2 will be the rail equivalent of the M6 Toll - an over-priced white elephant. Journey times are fast enough without it.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 72.

    The price tag of 32Billion is first up,a starting figure,it'll cost more by the time its finished.Secondly,its money that could and should be spent on current rail infrastructure,to improve trains etc and reduce fairs to make trains affordable to use in the first place.Third,if this is new money then use it not just for rail but other construction projects such as housing to help boost the economy

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 71.

    I agree in principal that a High Speed line should be built but I suspect it would not get past Birmingham due to lack of funds. It would make more sence to improve the current rail network by investing in more electrified routes. The TGV lines are long distance routes, Paris to Lyon is 280ish miles, where you need to reduce the journey time, not just knocking 20 mins off an 80 min journey.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 70.

    Will it ever be built? Will the travelling public suffer years of countless weekend closures whilst it is being built? How many public enquiries will it need before work finally starts?.

    London's Cross Rail was discussed and shelved over a period of 30 plus years. And now even when its built there will be little benefit to South East London.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 69.

    lets see put into the order you think they belong and where the money is going

    £32bn, lobbyists,Consultancy,MPs, Politic party rich donors ,Venture Capitalist "Taxi for Hire" Adviser friends,
    sorry if i left any out

 

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