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 288.

    £32 billion of money that should go to helping to rid this country of debt being spent on a transport system that will be unaffordable to most of the population of the UK. A rich Politicians dream.

    I'm all for HS2 if it is made more affordable and take more traffic off our road systems. But then we probably won't get enough carriages and be packed in like sardines.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    The speed of the trains is not the issue, it is their cost and punctuality.

    HS2 is the Coalition's equivalent of the M6 Toll. It is a premium service for the wealthy and people who are "too important" for the normal service.

    The real solution to the problem of long commutes is to try to reduce the distances people travel and offer incentives?

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    @273 'Miggyz'. You imply luddites in UK are opposed to HG2 between London/Birmingham because they have never been on the continent and enjoyed high speed rail travel?

    Actually, the French rail system is state owned. France is 5 (?) times the size of UK and not comparable to UK in any way, shape or form - except for political corruption. But then you must know that being so well-travelled?

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    Going nowhere fast.
    How appropriate for the new era.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    MP's - HELLO !
    NOBODY WANTS IT !!!!!!!!!
    Oh do grow up and stop shouting. You only have to look at the posts here to see that some people want HS2. If you have a sensible contribution to make to the discussion fine otherwise don't waste my time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    I'm behind this. There is not enough room on any of the existing routes between Manchester/Birmingham and London to significantly increase capacity or deal with the rapidly growing demand for train services.

    Far from being a "vanity project", this is about dragging our rail network into the 21st century and providing a real alternative to short-haul air travel domestically and to Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    What people forget is that HS2 will open up extra suburban and freight paths on existing lines thus improving capacity and helping the economy. Dont just think about HS2 by itself. It's the spin offs that will make life in this country better. HS2 from London to Birmingham is just the start. Expect it to be extended to other UK cities and maybe even a link to Europe in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    A country the size of the UK main island does not require any high speed rail network now or in the future, use the money to build power generating schemes that would be more beneficial to all UK citizens and less control of foriegn companies owning UK energy supply, it may be alright for MP's but it is not their money to waste on minute savings = 32billions plus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    I guess there must be a fair few MPs living in and around Birmingham then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    What a waste of money. Why not build a theme park in the North. Britain throughout history with sets that could be used for TV & the film industry as well as bringing in jobs and tourism. High Streets through the ages with pubs and restaurants of each era. Transport through time etc rather than a project where any time saved is so minimal that getting to the station would eat the difference up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    Off their heads! 'Good case' - what are they smoking? If they spent that much cash on reinstating some of the stations now missing on mainlines, putting some goods sidings back, reinstating some disused and missing lines they might actually reduce the congestion on the roads - this is just a white elephant.
    Perhaps channel tunnel style car/lorry trains?

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    Surely nothing has done more to uglify Britain than motorways and motor cars, with their attendant sprawl of car parks, retail parks and anonymous housing? In comparison, HS2 will be beautifully efficient.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    This proposal wouldn't even be on the table if we all (well, most of the natiob) lived a little closer to work/family/friends, as there'd be so much less need for so much travel - and the (double) flip side would be an old fashioned sense of community coming back to the fore in society......

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    The idea that it will cost £32bn for a 15 or 20 minute reduction in journey time is absolute nonsense. The London to Birmingham section of the line will cost £17Bn and reduce journey times from city centre to city centre by 33 minutes, which is a huge time saving.

    £32bn is the cost of the entire network and the "15 minute time saving" is completely made up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    In a country that is much longer than it is wide and with the major centres of population fairly neatly lined up down the middle, it is frankly embarrassing that we have such an expensive and unreliable rail network in this day and age. The HS2 strategy is necessary in my opinion but as with any major project in this country bureaucrats and protesters will simply destroy any chance it has.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Clearly most of the luddites on this site have never been on the continent and enjoyed the benefits of high speed train travel. Decades of under-investment in our railway infrastructure has left us lagging behind or peers. We need to pay the price for this folly and join the 21st century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Far better to spend money on UK infratructure projects where there is something tangible at the end of the process, than spending money on Quantitative easing where there is no guarantee that it will work. At least the project will provide jobs and an upgraded rail system. Why not also upgrade the water ways for freight use and take the pressure of the roads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    "JamesStGeorge: Utter nonsense this rich man's railway is a white elephant.Useless.Expensive.Pointless.We need capacity all over the country and only if fares are made cheaper by it.We need lots of stops, frequency or service, not inter city for fat cats."

    Spot on. M6 Toll, 1st Class - empty

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    How about we use this money to get our existing rail network fit for purpose? Maybe the money would be better spent buying back "British Rail" so that the government can at least reap the profits made currently by the private companies rather than gambling £32bn on a project that has better odds on going over budget than it does on being successful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Make it 4 tracks, introduce a fast (100 mph) commuter service, house prices will rocket & NIMBY’s will vanish.


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