/ Travel & Leisure

Are you for or against the HS2?

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

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I am against, business is changing, web conferencing and virtual conferences will become the face of the future. Spending £30BN odd on a single line from London to Birmingham is absolutely pointless as the benefit is about 30 minutes less travelling.

Far better to improve the internet communications structure such that people can easily work from home for any company world-wide.

I have an ex-colleague who works in the UK during the day for a well known computer manufacturer in the USA and he does their UNIX maintenance whilst they are asleep.

Knowledge based jobs need to be encouraged by proving the necessary infrastructure.

Finally before this really does go ahead and contracts are awarded I would want to know how much a return ticket will be?

My understanding is that it cuts just 30 minutes London
– Birmingham not 40 minutes that you claim.

If from I hour 25 minutes to just 55 minutes, can’t
justify on cost grounds….to 45 minutes (?), a very hesitant
qualified support.

BTW China is on to their latest at 380 km per hour.
that they’ve already started building trains to run to this
spec, and using the same tracks that accommodated
the slightly slower 350 km per hour super express
already in service.

A clarification to what has been commented.

London-Birmingham phase £17 billion, to Manchester
AND Leeds, a further 15 billion or so in my

Yup… cost of fares is a very relevant consideration.

Reported just days ago a ‘super express’ scheme in
operation in the Netherlands is running at a loss as
passengers deserted in large numbers on account
of much higher fares.

Check out the story at the Telegraph.

Sophie Gilbert says:
12 January 2012

A few questions. What is the point in being against it if it is actually going ahead? If it isn’t going to get built, will it only be delaying the inevitable? Why can it not both boost the north by bringing it closer to the south and boost the south full stop without it being necessarily at the expense of the north?

I am very much against this development. Rather than spending this obscene amount of money on transport we should be investing in helping people and companies live and work in a way that has less impact on the environment. Quite apart from the development costs, has anyone given any thought to the costs of running trains at very high speeds.

Agree on reducing the impact. This project will never make a profit.

Unless successfully challenged by way of judicial
review, it would seem the scheme shall proceed
….. fast train technology has been around a very long time
with the advent of the Japanese bullet train as long
ago as 1964 doing then 186 mph, AND have maglev
and possibly one other advanced technology been
considered as an alternative?

The USA have never taken AND shall not take to very/high
speed rail and for good reason as presumably there is not
a NEED bearing in mind passenger expectations, environmental
concerns/damage, the cost of running it and not least, anticipated
revenue returns…. like I said, the super rail facility in the
Netherlands in use is running at a loss.

We don’t need a ‘Concorde’ of the rails where only the
rich or well-off can afford… nice thing to have but not really
that necessary for probably the majority of rail users and
others who have a need for travel or stay in touch.

Phil says:
12 January 2012

There is one high speed rail line in the US with anotherdue to start construction this year. A third is in the planning stage.

Standing corrected if that’s the case of US rail developments but I
note two schemes there are just 110 mph and 150 mph respectively….
hardly in the superfast category compared to the proposed
London-Birmingham link of up to 250 (?) mph AND China’s existing
350 km per hour fleet already up and running, to be replaced entirely
by the much sleeker and faster 380 km per hour ones (no, haven’t done
the maths as to conversion to Imperial) and we are talking of vast
distances covered/to be covered between the major conurbations on a
par with, say, London to Rome, Warsaw or even Moscow.

And when they do things in China, they do them really fast in more
than one sense of the word and unlike in the West.

Elrond5 says:
12 January 2012

At least I now know the length of a Football field is as variable an the truths of the Cotwolds local Nimby’s.
I think Govt plays to simple folk

Eh, what? The line will be no where near the Cotswolds! Do you mean the Chilterns?

I’m against it on environment grounds. Plus if it is anything like present train system it will be very expensive and inefficient.

I think the real reasons for HS2 are to spend on infrastructure to get the economy moving and to show case the uk.
Why they keep on about saving 30 mins traveling time as a good reason beats me, who cares? You could gain or lose more at either end in traffic.
I’m all for getting the economy going again and capital projects are as good a way as any but the vast amount of money this will cost could be far better spent in other ways, and give greater benefit.
How about a few tidal energy stations or “encouragement cash” for UK manufacturing. How many things did we use to lead the world in but find ourselves importing today?
Those are areas to throw money at, not “show off fast trains” we can’t afford tickets for anyway.

The Daily Mail recently gave train costs across europe for a 24 mile commuter journey. In the UK it cost in excess of £3000/year. The most expensive cost in europe was £900 with other commuter trips costing £600/£700. This is the kind of thing that needs to be discussed and the question asked why does it cost so much in the UK. As I understand it, behind the HST drive, is an europesn directive that is pushing us toward HTS whether we want it or no. It seems to me that what needs to be sorted first is the excessive cost of UK rail, then we can start talking about HTS. HTS will not help the commuter one iota.

Andrew Fisher says:
19 January 2012

The £32 billion quoted for the HS2 project is a very large sum for a new railway with limited appeal.

It would be much better spent on quicker and cheaper options such as:

Add extra lines to busy routes

Longer trains with longer platforms at stations to ease overcrowding and increase capacity

Double decker carriages like those on mainland Europe to ease overcrowding and increase capacity

Reopen old lines to put towns and cities back onto the rail network

Chris, Slough says:
20 January 2012

If done properly, HS2 should:
1. Free up space on existing railways for more freight and thus reduce the number of lorries on the motorway network
2. Enable better services along existing lines for towns such as Watford and Milton Keynes
3. Link Birmingham airport to Manchester, the North and London, thus reducing the need for another London airport
4. Be linked to Heathrow to reduce domestic air travel
5. Be linked to HS1 to enable through services from Birmingham to Paris, again reducing air travel.
6. Have fares comparable with those on HS1, but no higher.
On environmental grounds, I’d rather have a new railway than a new motorway or a new airport and after the disaster that was the West Coast upgrade, such major works on existing lines should be a non-starter. As for double-deckers, the European loading gauge is much larger, on the smaller British lines they would be horribly claustrophobic as indeed they were, when used on the Dartford line some 50 years ago.

I am in favour of HS2 but I have several thoughts and reservations on the project.

Project Cost

I think that we need a proper breakdown of the cost of the line because it is highly probable that part of it will be an allocation of the full economic cost of civil servants working in the Department of Transport, the costs of public enquiries and any Parliamentary hearings. The construction of the line needs to be put out to tender because as Chiltern Railways found out, Network Rail will charge much more than its competitors for building railway stations. If my memory serves me right Euston station will have to be partially re-built whether it is for HS2 or extended and additional trains using the present lines. If there is to be a branch to Heathrow Airport I think that it should also serve Gatwick Airport to link both airports to the north and other train services to the south.

Benefits of a High Speed line

Living in Ashford I often use HS1 to London St Pancras during the off-peak times and although it usually has only six coaches compared to the eight carriage classic train service to London Charing Cross it still looks like it carries more people in it. Although it may not be the best service for the City of London it does save about half an hour getting to central London and does not cost you anymore to use it off-peak if you are travelling beyond London.

Train Noise

Much is made of the noise created by the trains travelling at high speed but I have to say that when a Eurostar goes by Ashford International station at high speed it can distract you but, in my opinion, no damage will be done to the ears even though it can be as little as 20 feet away. Slow goods trains can seem to make as much if not more noise.

Train Fares

The problem with train fares is that they are biased in favour of high fares for peak time commuters and cheap fares for off-peak travel plus extraordinarily cheap fares for pre-booked longer distance travel. For instance I have to pay more to get to Reading and back in a day than I paid to get to either Bath or Swansea and back.

Other points

Like HS1, with good design the HS2 railway line can be made to blend in with environment. I think that the railway bridge over the river Medway looks better than the one carrying the M2. Although it is possible for travellers to talk to each other using video conferencing I believe that most people like the face to face contact which is why you see politicians and others going to a specific meeting place to talk to each other. Not only do people want to travel but they want to do it as fast as possible, which is why most people fly across the Atlantic Ocean instead of going by liner and we no longer have people walking in front of motor cars holding a red flag.

A few of us care about the environment, but from the number of readers who have clicked ‘Disagree’ we seem to be in the minority.

I hope you lot don’t have any children to inherit the mess we are making of the environment.

I think you can disregard the Agree/Disagree against each comment. Someone seems to have made it their business to visit daily or has organised a mass vote. Hopefully Which? will have their IP address and block their access.

Someone has certainly gone to town on our thumb votes – it could have been posted on a forum of some sort. We won’t be taking any action this time, as generally only take action against comments from the same person, but feel free to disregard them on this occasion.

It is not the ‘thumbs down’ votes that concern me but the apparent lack of concern for our environment. Running a high speed train will use a lot more energy.

The UK seems obsessed with both private and public transport. Many commute large distances, going to the continent for a weekend break is popular, and so on. In an other Conversation, I was told that some people drive 18,000 miles in 6 months. We transport food half way round the world rather than selling local produce and supporting UK producers.

Would we not be better in spending money on helping people to live close to where they work? There are many ways that this could be achieved. I don’t want to derail this conversation about high speed trains, but perhaps we could explore practical ways of cutting down our dependence on transport in a future Which? Conversation.

Patrick – Sorry for clicking on ‘disagree’ for your comment, which I agree with.

Don’t worry, I disagreed with myself as well!

I think that the HS should connect to the Continent first with a projected by-Pass of central London, to eventually link to the north. This would enable continental business to flourish. It would also test the ‘validity’ of the cost projections, and if they escalate beyond reason, then a good business link would have been made and we could take a breather and reconsider the HS throughout the UK. Exports are our life-blood and should be the initail focus of ‘gross’ expenditure from which we would have a reasonable chance of making a profit from overseas. Internal development is good for the internal economy but we do need to widen our external business.