HS2 is controversial, and it’s not on our patch. The easy option would be for FoSBR to stay neutral. But HS2 matters to everyone, especially to those of us who see rail playing a more important role in future.
Fast and slow don’t mix
One of the biggest problems facing the modern railway is timetabling: how do you mix fast and slow trains on the same line?
Beeching’s answer was to close stations, so that all trains could go faster. This is part of the reason we don’t have trains stopping at places like Saltford, St Anne’s Park, Flax Bourton and Coalpit Heath.
Another answer is to build a separate line for express trains. Enter HS2. By taking fast trains off the East Coast, West Coast and Midland Main Lines, it will allow more local trains to use these routes. Stations on all three lines can be reopened because it will be possible to fit them into the schedule.
Is there a better way?
Could we upgrade existing lines? Lord Berkeley, in his dissenting report, thinks so. But he estimates the cost would be almost as high as HS2, and the disruption (2,700 weekend closures) would amount to closing the network every weekend for the next 30 years. It’s a non-starter.
Could HS2 have been better managed? Undoubtedly. For example some estimate that tens of billions could have been saved if the DfT had not insisted on over-engineering to remove risk.
Is it an expensive railway? It is a lot of money but the figures are misleading as they include new stations, some of which will be needed for Northern Powerhouse Rail, and trains. The cost per km is broadly similar to a modern motorway.
Is it going to destroy large areas of ancient woodland? HS2 is a long high-speed railway. It will have an impact. For example in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty one hectare (out of 11,000) will be lost. In all, HS2 will have an effect on 0.01% of our ancient woodland. In other places more recent woodland such as the trackbed of the Great Central Railway at Calvert Jubilee will be lost. This is highly regrettable, though it is odd that HS2 makes headlines for this whilst the planned Lower Thames Crossing motorway, which will take almost as much ancient woodland, hardly gets a mention.
Should the money be spend on hospitals, schools, or other rail schemes? That might seem desirable, but it isn’t possible. HS2 is an investment funded by borrowing. There is no pile of money that could be diverted to other things.
HS2 is a vote of confidence in the future of rail. It will allow for more trains to more places. A future extension from Birmingham to Bristol, as proposed by Greengauge 21, would have a major impact locally allowing high-speed trains from Bristol to Scotland and the North.
If HS2 is cancelled, all bets are off. There is no credible alternative scheme.