HS2: Some answers to the critics

Written by 1)   on 31 October 2013 in Diary
Jim Steer, director of Greengauge 21 -  a high-speed rail research organisation - makes his case in favour of HS2

Tuesday’s Strategic Case for HS2 was a significant turning point for the future of Britain’s railways. It answered critics and resoundingly reaffirmed HS2’s convincing business rationale in principle and in detail.

The case was crystal clear on what HS2 would achieve in both improving transport links and in real added value to the UK economy.

Benefits for capacity were particularly convincing. Not only for stations directly served by HS2 but for towns and cities off the main route able to look forward to better services as capacity frees up across the network. 

What is more, one by one the report provided clear answers, including to two criticisms levelled by those with an axe to grind:

 HS2 will benefit the South rather than the North 

The document is explicit on how HS2 can help rebalance our economy, laying out how Northern and Midland cities will benefit far more than London. I am yet to see an analysis of HS2 that concludes the opposite. The array of Council Leaders from Northern cities calling on Ed Miliband to give the project his full support is testament to this. The labour drift to apathy has been halted.

2)    Upgrading the existing network or lengthening trains would be preferable  

Critics suggest improvement of existing services should be prioritised. The new case spells out the consequences of taking this course more clearly than in previous reports.  Even with every conceivable measure to squeeze out more capacity, the West Coast Main Line will be bursting by 2020.  

The document outlines services that will just not fit on the West Coast Main line today and explains why punctuality targets on over-stretched main lines will be unattainable. Even lengthening trains to their limit at Euston during peak hours would increase seating capacity by just 24%; insufficient in the face of 4 - 5% annual growth rates, as experienced over the last ten years. 

The alternative world without HS2, as painted by Network Rail, is also bleak;14 years’ worth of weekend closures and disruption for upgrade work to increase capacity. No one wants to see this become a reality and it proves HS2 is the only viable long-term option for increasing rail capacity.

The case is clear. Britain’s creaking railway network is under increasingly pressure as passenger numbers rise inexorably. HS2 addresses these maladies and more, for the long-term.

HS2 holds the best lasting solution to improving connectivity between regional cities across North and Central England, directly connecting eight out of our 10 largest cities. It offers an unparalleled opportunity to rebalance the economy, rejuvenate cities and crucially, help regions outside of London prosper. The report suggests benefits to business as well as wider society could reach in excess of £53bn, not even accounting for growth post 2036 

HS2 will be Europe’s biggest construction project and will create jobs across British industry, fostering innovation and skills whilst reaffirming our leading position in delivering cutting edge infrastructure projects on the world stage.

The industry stands ready to deliver on time and on budget and politicians now have a choice: get a short-term poll bounce or get real and deliver vital investment in this country’s future.

Jim Steer is director of Greengauge 21

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