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

    Comment number 1.

    I seriously think you (the media) need to start considering more than the speed benefits, i am fed up of every article only talking about speed. It is capcity that is why the line is needed! Speed is simply a perk of the new line. We already have slow lines why build another one? No one mentions the amount of freight that will now be able to run and how many lorries that will remove from the road?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Classic case of where local environment and society will be negatively impacted where as nationally there will be positive environment and social benefits especially once it reaches Scotland. Agree with 1 about capacity. We are approaching the limits of rail capacity and have not built a significant new rail project in England for nearly 100 years, not counting the Chunnel & HS1.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Rail moves 6% of journeys... that's exactly why we desparately need more funding for rail, to help find a baetter balance from roads to rail. Increasing spending on roads just encourages a worse problem, spending money on rail and encouraging people off roads helps both systems. It's also far better environmentally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    @Well Actually: I think you'll find that cities such as Barcelona, Kyoto and Osaka have benefited greatly from having high speed rail connections. Investment in Barcelona has increased since AVE started services and air travel between Barcelona and Madrid has fallen by over 40%.

  • rate this

    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.


Comments 5 of 33



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