High speed rail debate hots up: MPs join war of words

 
High speed train The high speed trains debate has divided public and political opinion

It's like Marmite: you love it or hate it but you can't be undecided.

HS2 is either a vanity project and a waste of money or it is a transformational scheme which will rebalance the British economy.

And by one of those coincidences that happen only in politics, two unrelated but simultaneous sequences of events have conspired together to sharpen the debate.

The six month statutory consultation period, due to end on 29 July, has witnessed a storm of protest along the proposed route.

Parallel tracks
Map of part of the proposed route of the London to Birmingham high speed line A map illustrating part of the proposed route of the London to Birmingham high speed line

Once-sleepy Warwickshire villages like Ladbroke and Burton Joyce have become hotbeds of protest and dissent with local people parading their mascot: yes, inevitably, it's a white elephant!

At the same time, the Commons Transport Select Committee is conducting its own inquiry into the £36bn project.

They have just returned from a fact finding trip to the high-speed lines in Germany and France. The MPs say they could find no one who thought we in Britain should not follow their lead.

Start Quote

The benefits are very marginal... I'm as productive on the train as I am in my office”

End Quote Jerry Marshall AGAHST

This week, the two converged: the select committee questioned opponents of HS2 including Jerry Marshall, the chairman of Action Groups Against High-Speed (AGAHST).

Action Groups Against High-Speed Trains is the umbrella organisation co-ordinating what might otherwise have become a haphazard assortment of local campaigns, some driven by environmental issues, others more concerned with the fortunes of the local golf club.

Mr Marshall did not pull his punches.

The reduced journey times would produce 'very marginal benefits' which did not justify even the initial £17bn stretch between London and Birmingham, let alone the full £36bn network between London and Scotland.

Reconnecting the regions

There is a general recognition among supporters of the project that the opponents of HS2 have made much of the early running.

Start Quote

High speed rail is a transformational project - it will help rebalance the economy”

End Quote David Cameron Prime Minister

Significantly, an all-party group of MPs has come together to talk up high-speed rail.

Their Secretary, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart, sees HS2 as the essential mechanism for reconnecting our more, and less, prosperous regions and combating the threats of the two-speed economy.

And so the debate goes on.

With the results of the public consultation not due to be made known until the end of the year, we're not exactly on the fast track...

 
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  • rate this
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    Comment number 33.

    @Francis King: Er actually nope, rail freight has been growing year on year and actually increased by 70% between 96/97 and 06/07. Big freight companies such as EWS and GBf now are so successful that they are competing for freight contracts abroad. Even Eddie Stobart has a rail freight operation with a big contract with Tesco. They NEED new capacity though to keep taking lorries off the roads!

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    Comment number 32.

    I live less than 4 miles from a proposed green tunnel for the HS2 . I am angry that politicians like the millionaire Philip Hammond have taken the attitude that the people who do live near the proposed route are "little people" Mr Hammond lives in leafy Weybridge nowhere near the route. His second in command lives in Chipping Barnet, nowhere near the route. I condemn these people.

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    Comment number 31.

    The ministers have just returned from europe looking at the hs system there. Built well before the recession with government money essentially. Are they proving value at the moment? Have they contributed to the dire fiscal problems these countries are facing? Any independant professional analysis commissioned?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 30.

    It seems as if much of the business case revolves on attracting business travellers, no doubt with resorces to pay a higher level of fare at busy times. it may be worth reflecting on the the fact that several small airlines went under on their cross atlantic routes with the reduction of numbers travelling in their business class aircraft. similarly the big carriers felt this badly. HS2 same thing?

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    Comment number 29.

    Opponents say that HS2 would be used only by high-paying business class travellers. Improve the business case & roll-out to a wider section of the population by a faster Eurotunnel shuttle going direct from Calais to the major cities and up to Scotland! For lorries this would save on driver hours, making a return journey easier to complete by one driver in a day, and reduce road congestion.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 28.

    In my expereince rail transport is unreliable, flaky, vulnerable to being cancelled or rerouted on a whim (especially over holiday periods), incredibly expensive and very uncomfortable (I think they use midgets to test the seats) so why bother building another slow, costly, inefficient line?

    If this had been truly next gen we'd be using mag-lev. It's just an expensive ego trip.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 27.

    When railways were being built across London, their builders, despite the daunting underground obstacles, invented the Tube. If we are going to blow billions why not make it trillions and put a lot more of HS2 underground, perhaps under motorways? Lots easier than under London. It is a railway after all--little to see from a High Speed train. And if for frieight why go in to London at all?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 26.

    We dont need it, We had the WCML given £9bn to be upgraded and guess what, that kicked towns like Nuneaton who suffered during this work and no benefits.
    Also, whats different from us and many European Countries is that France is 4 times bigger than the UK, therefore they dont have to go through towns, they can simply divert, something you can do in this country because theres limited space!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 25.

    Major developments usually divide people between those who will benefit from those who have to live next to it. Jerry Marshall lives in Burton Green in Warwickshire and will soon have a railway through his village and near his house if it goes ahead. Would he be so interested if this were not the case?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 24.

    #23 heighwash


    Yes, the original business case for the Channel Tunnel and HSRL to St Pancras contained proposals for through rail services to the Continent.

    The advent of budget airlines since the original business case was written has changed the economics somewhat.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 23.

    Will the proposed line be constructed such that eventually Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt et al will be directly connected to Scotland, Birmingham etc, i.e no change at St Pancras will be required.

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    Comment number 22.

    And before anyone asks why the Strasbourg people want to go to Paris so fast. It's because their country's economy, like ours, is so over-centralised on the capital that tens of thousands have to go there more often than they'd like.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 21.

    Well the citizens of Strasbourg in France are absolutely delighted with the new TGV line that's cut their journey time to Paris from 4 hrs to 2:20. Yet it doesn't even come to their doorstep, currently ending 60 miles short.
    This is about track capacity, yes, but also about Stoke, Crewe, Chester, Liverpool, the Lancs towns etc, not just Brum and Manchester.

    Ruddy Nimby Southerners.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    The trouble with HS2 is that whilst it offers speed it does not offer connectivity. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we need to spend significant sums to upgrade the rail network. However, what vwe need is a network offering fast journey times between a wide range of destinations (the best example is the Swiss network). It also needs to be turn up and go.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    I'm glad somebody mentioned Beeching, didn't he axe this very line? Have the economics changed that much? I don't think so, otherwise why would Hammond be on the point of authorising longer and heavier truck trailers?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    Zer_matty
    I agree it will probably cost more, But HS1 was on time and on budget so fingers crossed.
    The issue is that you can only lengthen trains so far on our existing lines not only because the platforms cant be extended easily but in the case of the pendilinos that run london birmingham they cant go beyond 11 cars (upgrade in progress) because the computers would stop talking to each other.

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    Comment number 17.

    Actually, I am undecided!

    But two particular thoughts have crossed my mind:

    1) There is no WAY that this is only going to cost £36 billion.
    2) Surely the problem is not with speed, we are not a huge country and journey times aren't necessarily the issue. The issue is capacity. Surely upgrades of trains should take priority?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    Simple question -
    How long is it estimated to get from one end of the mammouth car parks dragging luggage and the kids onto the actual platform?
    So in the end what will be real time saved on the journey from Birmingham to Euston?
    Have any studies been made by the government re this?
    Plus of course what will the parking charges be?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    @Francis King: "Why spend all of the money on HS2?"

    But that's just it @Francis King - it's not all of the money is it?

    HS2 will cost £2bn per annum; a relatively small % of the transport budget and similar to that allocated to CrossRail / ThamesLink, two huge transport infrastructure projects benefiting the Capital; maybe HS2 is just a more equitable distribution of finite public resources?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    Francis King- I suggest you look at statistics for intermodal freight over the last 6 years and tell me no one will move freight by rail. We now have weekly trains of oranges coming from spain. We bring products from milan to birmingham by rail. Tesco M&S ASDA all transfer some goods by rail. Southampton and felixstow chuck huge quantities of freight onto railways. Please get your facts right.

 

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