Britain’s second high-speed rail line gets the go-ahead and High Speed Two (affectionately known as ‘HS2’) will be created, at a cost of £32 billion. Will it run late and cost a bomb or improve journey times at great value?
Yes, £32 billion. It’s an astounding amount of money, roughly what the whole network gets in public funding for more than half a decade.
But when you consider that re-engineering the line it will run very close to – the West Coast Main Line – cost nearly £10 billion a few years ago perhaps it’s not that much. Or perhaps it will end up costing a whole lot more.
Do we need the HS2?
I’m torn. One the one side is my boyhood self, yearning for the speedy trains I saw abroad and knowing that we used to have them here too.
And on the other side is my 32-year old taxpaying-self, wincing at the cost. Yes, I know High Speed One was delivered to time and a very large budget. But passenger capacity through the Chunnel is only 50% of what it could be, and freight is only 10% according to RAIL magazine.
What will we get for the cash?
By 2026 there will be a faster line from London Euston to Birmingham with a link to High Speed One and so the Continent. Four stations will be built or rebuilt for the HS2: London Euston, Old Oak Common (west London), Birmingham Airport/Interchange and Birmingham Curzon Street.
By 2033 there will be a faster line to Manchester and Leeds too, and an extension to Heathrow. Journey times will be (with their existing times in brackets):
- Birmingham to London – 45 minutes (1 hour 25)
- Manchester to London – 1 hour 08 (2 hours 08)
- Leeds to London – 1 hour 28 (2 hours 20)
- Glasgow and Edinburgh to London – 3 hours 30 (4 hours 30)
Those with long memories will recall that we were supposed to have trains direct from regional British cities to the Continent years ago (the trains were even built). This never happened, but it is another bit of the HS2 promise:
- Birmingham to Brussels or Paris – 3 hours (4 hours)
- Leeds or Manchester to Brussels or Paris – 3 hours 30 (4 hours 30)
Who are HS2’s winners and losers?
Then there are, of course, the people directly affected. The new line is expected to generate 40,000 new jobs, but it will also demolish 400 homes and impact on many more.
Nearly 55,000 people responded to the Department for Transport consultation on the HS2, mainly members of the public, which shows the strength of feeling on the subject.
So is it all worth it? Will it boost the north by bringing it closer to the south, or boost the south at the expense of the north?
Are you for or against the HS2 (high-speed rail)?
For (56%, 297 Votes)
Against (33%, 174 Votes)
I'm ambivalent (12%, 63 Votes)
Total Voters: 537