THE letters of the various opponents of HS2 are full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings. I will try to deal with some of them: “There is no need for it” – demand for rail travel has doubled in the past 20 years and with population growth of 10 million is set to double again. The existing tracks simply do not have the capacity to deal with this. To cope, we must invest in either motorways, domestic aviation, or rail. The first two cause massive environmental damage and noise. Rail is the only medium to deliver the capacity needed in an acceptable and efficient way. HS2 tracks will take less than a third of the land of a new motorway.
“New technology will reduce the need for rail travel” – Skype, Twitter and faster broadband have all been introduced in the last 15 years, exactly the same period that rail demand has soared. The research evidence is that communications technology increases rather than reduces the demand for travel.
“Improvements to the existing tracks are better” – trying to improve a railway while still running it causes massive disruption, years of weekend closures, bus substitutions and extended journey times. We have already experienced the £9bn upgrade of the West Coast line which caused endless disruption and provided a small capacity increase which is already almost exhausted. We could spend £20bn tinkering with the existing network and still have insufficient capacity.
“HS2 does nothing for freight” – HS2 releases huge capacity for new freight paths on the existing network. Without HS2, there will be no capacity for additional freight paths, and all increased future freight demand will have to be accommodated on the motorway network.
“HS2 just saves a few minutes” – the journey times from London and Birmingham to all our Northern cities will be reduced by almost an hour. The journey time from Heathrow will be reduced by two hours.
When foreign investors are deciding where to locate business ventures, they place a high priority on connectivity with the capital. HS2 will bring substantial inward investment to the North. Without HS2 almost all future investment will continue to be in the South East.
“HS2 is just for rich businessmen” – travel patterns from London to Europe, within Europe on their 5,000 mile high-speed network, and in Japan show that high-speed trains are extremely popular and used intensively by all classes of society, with astonishingly low fares off-peak. There is no reason why the same pattern will not be repeated here.
“HS2 does nothing for local commuters” – the existing main line networks are too full for new commuter and regional passenger services. HS2 will release vast capacity on the existing network for such improvements. National Rail has already published proposals for new direct services from London to Harrogate and Bradford when the capacity becomes available. Allied Rail have been told they cannot introduce their proposed direct services from London to Huddersfield because there is insufficient capacity. This is now; imagine how much worse the situation will be in 20 years time when demand has doubled again.
HS2 is a vital project for 21st century Britain, connecting 10 of our biggest city regions with a fast, reliable and efficient 21st century rail network. In 30 years time people will marvel that it was ever controversial, just as we marvel now that the Victorians opposed the first railways.