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Friday, June 18, 2021

Why Britain needs HS2

This year will see a massive mobilisation of those opposed to building a high speed rail network in Britain.

It seems the new railway will cut a path through the groves and gardens of the most politically articulate. Arguments have been advanced that High Speed Two, costing upwards of £30 billion, is unaffordable at the nadir of the worst recession since the 1930s.

It will demand public funding at a time when the coalition government is committed to paying off the huge tax debts incurred by the last administration. Do people really need a new railway that shaves a few minutes off the trip to Birmingham anyway?

Britain is a small country that is already much better connected with good roads and two main lines connecting north and south. Railway capacity may be strained but can be accommodated in other ways, the argument runs.

Similarly projections of economic and transport growth need to be talked down in view of the recession – again an argument for doing nothing. The environmental damage of a building site hundreds of miles long is too high a price to pay. Think of the greenhouse gas effect of high powered trains soaking up energy.

The arguments against High Speed Two might be advanced with force and eloquence. However none of them stands up to close examination.

Social Responsibility
First consider the impact of the route through the very heart of England. Far from ruining the landscape, ploughing through hills and meadows, the line will eventually enhance it. The government plans a corridor of woodland to mask the line.

This will not be a simple belt of conifers but circular woods and shrubs creating a new forest, a haven for wildlife, birds and butterflies. The Secretary of State with commendable promptness has sought to tweak the route and sink it in cuttings and tunnels further minimising its visual and audible impact.

Compared to the M40 and the M25 the railway will be considerably less intrusive. The real argument, ‘I don’t want this monstrosity in my neighbourhood,’ is no argument at all and does the objectors living near London, in what used to be called the stock broker belt, little service.

Many have benefited handsomely from their proximity to the economic success story of Europe. Compare Pathé newsreels of London just after the war with its pre-eminence as the world centre of international finance, banking and trade.

It is therefore impingent upon the very people who have done well by London to accommodate infrastructure that will help spread their good fortune further afield. The Big Society, David Cameron talks about, means making sacrifices for the good of the country.

Green Machine
As well as Hammond’s shrubs and woods HS2 will contribute handsomely to a low carbon economy. Accusations that high speed trains create more carbon than others are ridiculous. In fact new high speed trains running at 300 kph consume pretty much the same levels of energy as existing stock on inter-city routes travelling at 200 kph.

More important still, trains drawing power from a clean nuclear electric power station, part of another debate admittedly, will always be much more environmentally efficient than private motoring. As any rail industry professional will tell you, the way to attract more motorists onto the railway is provision of fast, comfortable and reliable services complete with the basic attraction of a seat.

The prospect of linking with Heathrow Airport and High Speed One will obviate the need for increased domestic and French short haul flights.

Good for Business
At first glance the price tag of £30 billion might appear unaffordable. Why is the coalition government backing HS2 when it has an exchequer full of paper debt to pay off? Quite simply the new regime is winding down those public spending exercises that yield no return.

Backing ideas and commerce that create wealth makes much more sense. This is not some dastardly conspiracy of big business. The wealth creators will be the people who dig and navigate High Speed Two, the readers of RailStaff who will crew and signal and drive the trains.

The building of HS2 will of itself create an economic boom. However, the benefits are far greater than that. Look at the high speed networks in Europe. Cities connected by high speed rail flourish and grow.

The social disconnect between London and the north country is of real concern to a government that cannot afford mitigating social spending programmes. The idea behind high speed rail is to spread the dynamics of London’s commercial success to the north and the midlands and eventually Scotland. Make no mistake, High Speed Two is good for business – rail business, commerce and domestic and international trade.

Creating Capacity
The argument that demand for transport is leveling off holds no water in the rail industry. Demand for rail travel has soared by 40% over the last 15 years. Rail freight has recorded equally compelling progress. This trend has continued even through the recession.

Rail is a growth industry desperate for extra capacity. No amount of tinkering with ever longer platforms and trains or additional sets of tracks alongside the existing main lines will produce this extra capacity. The argument that people do not really need to have a journey between Birmingham and London shortened is fallacious in the extreme.

Britain’s railways are already operating at capacity. Building a new high speed railway capable of carrying 1,000 passengers on trains travelling at 200 miles an hour – and 15 of them operating an hour – frees up paths on the West Coast Main Line.

It will allow for more much needed suburban services and give a hearty boost to rail freight. High Speed Two creates capacity sorely needed on other lines. This translates as more service, more seats and extra freight.

Political Foresight
The contention that growth might level off and the UK never emerge from the recession as quite the economy it was, is a powerful argument for doing nothing. Such an argument usually enjoys all to ready an ear in Westminster.

Certainly the last administration dithered when it came to railways – tinkering with the structure and dragging its feet on Crossrail. Building High Speed Two will take 20 years. That the coalition government has decided to push ahead marks a new departure in British politics. It is a triumph of long term vision over short term expediency.

High Speed Two is a statement of faith in Britain’s future. To compete with the emerging economies of China and the east and make a valuable and consistent contribution to a stable Britain needs a clear, open, transport network that promotes the free flow of freight and people.

Britain needs to stimulate commerce. In short Britain needs High Speed Two.


  1. Or more likely, the spin doctors at Number 10 think the promise of HS2 on the distant horizon will be a good way to win much needed votes in the North. nnCameron needs to win more seats to get an outright majority in the next election and this ‘North South divide’ rubbish is just one strategy for that. “Sorry we are cutting vital services, sorry unemployment and taxes are rising, sorry we are privatising everything in sight, but dont worry, we are going to solve the North South divide. Vote for us, we will build you a high speed rail line”.

    • You hit the nail right on the head! Political opportunism,blown up with empty rhetoric.I just hope they’re digging a hole big enough for them all to fall into.

  2. “Far from ruining the landscape, ploughing through hills and meadows, the line will eventually enhance it.” – What a truely proposterous statement! You’ve never lived in the countryside have you? Nothing man does enhances the landscape, we are only capable of damaging it! The Victorians built some spectacular railways with viaducts that still look impressive today, but without exception, the landscape before was far better without the railway, we just got used to the damage we inflicted.

  3. “The idea behind high speed rail is to spread the dynamics of Londonu2019s commercial success to the north and the midlands and eventually Scotland”nnWhy “eventually Scotland”? Given that BMI just axed its Glasgow to London route, what are we supposed to do in the meantime?nnLinking the English cities with HS2 and leaving Scotland out (for “at least 20 – 30 years” according to transport minister Philip Hammond) will only make Scotland relatively more remote and further reduce our ability to compete. Without air links in the meantime we are absolutely screwed.nnJust what are we expected to do?

    • “Given that BMI just axed its Glasgow to London route” – why did they axe it? Not enough people wanting to pay to travel faster than the existing train service between London and Glasgow? If not enough people are willing to pay for the speed of an aircraft how many people will be willing to pay for the extra speed of HS2? We already have two major rail links to Scotland – the East Coast Main Line and the West Coast Main Line, which has recently been upgraded at huge cost. Let’s spend a fraction of the cost of HS2 on improving the existing system – better car parks, better station facilities, etc – instead of building a huge white elephant at massive public cost which we can’t afford.

      • there is a presentation from Jim Steer (Greengauge 21 – Pro HS2 Lobby group) where he says that there would be little business transfer from air for journeys over 3 hours. London to Glasgow / Edinburgh are by the same presentation at best 3u00bc hours apart by HS2nnNo dramatic modal swich? – no dramatic CO2 reduction either?

  4. I find it obscene for the Government to propose the building of a new High Speed rail line when so many individual are being made redundant and have no possibility of obtaining work. The money would be better spent on setting up apprenticeships to cultivate a new generation of skilled workers instead of sending all new school leavers to university or to the jobless heap. Training in engineering etc. is the life blood of the UK and in 5-6 years we could have a new batch of skilled workers who would go on to start their own business opportunities. This would be money well spent rather than on a rail link that at best would provide 9,000 permanent jobs.

  5. HS2 is threatening to devastate families, homes, livlyhoods, our countryside and our peace.To save 10 minutes on travelling time and costing billions our country can’t afford. It is an insane vain project for politicians, using our taxes and bordering on criminal.It really should be stopped.

  6. As to the HS2 trainsets using the same amount of energy as existing Pendolino. In service testing by Virgin resulted in a figure of around 0.03 Kwh per seat Km. With 11 or 12 carriages this could be around 0.028 or better if some of the first class seat were re-classified. HS2’s own traction current prediction figure was more than 0.05. In my maths that is almost twice the existing figurennWith the current effects of Japan and nuclear will any political party wish to be first to commit to nuclear irrespective of the desire, need, or lack of many other credible alternatives

  7. Dear Mr Milne – you write complete rubbish. nHS2 will destroy the British countryside – not just in the stockbroker belt of Buckinghamshire, but beyond towards Birmingham, and then when it splits beyond Birmingham towards Manchester and Leeds. What about these other communities?. It won’t bring any economic wealth to these other parts of the country that it eats up in its way; and Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester are not exactly economic backwaters today ………. and without HS2. nTrains travelling at 200 miles an hour will see the lines of shrubs and poplars either side devoid of any form of wildlife – they will be too frightened by the frequency, spedd and noise.nThe ticket price projections for HS2 in the economic justification means that it will only be lawyers, bankers and millionaires with sufficient funds to buy one. nHS2 is a nice concept but is a Dodo – NoGo! ……….. and with time will fall by the wayside and be consigned to the bin along with the many other transport white elephants listed in history

  8. A lot of investment for extra capacity on 1 line. Why?nWhen there is a drive to reduce costs in other areas of the network that are being drip fedof investment on existing, overcrowded lines, with poor services at stations.nWhy invest u00a330bn for 1 line, when that money would give a major refresh to the existing infrastructure.nIf someone from the powers that be come back with the line’but it’s an investment in jobs’, we have to ask, ‘over how long and in what disciplines?’ Contractors who win the right to work on the line, will employ either overpaid skilled labour or underpayed unskilled labour. If it’s underskilled, how much of the u00a330bn will go on training and H&S accreditation to allow these unskilled workers to work on the line

  9. For the naysayers, what is the alternative?! It is too easy to belittle engineering. Engineering never can be perfect merely the attempt to balance wants with needs. I liked what the person said about you can never beat the beauty that was there before man-made structures were built.nnI think many of the agruments in this piece are poor. I am in favour of HS2. The agruement in favour was rightly put as capacity, this isn’t a line from London to Birmingham, but phase 1 of a national network. The idea of upgrading the existing network holds no strength, u00a312bn has been spent upgrading the WCM for it to be out of date in 10 or less years anyway. I’m sure, as i do, everyone whos commented moans when a train is delayed or a bus replacement provided because even the most trivial of maintenance on our crumbling rail infrastructure is impaired by strict safety and management. We cant do what the French do and shut lines for months at a time for complete overhaul because we’re a country of moaners!nnAs for saving a few minutes and no economic benefit statements. Its not just passenger capcity, 40% of freight that arrives at our southern ports ends up in the west midlands for distribution. Can you still not seen the benefit? Having a massively increased freight capcity on this route using the currently unused freight capacity of HS1 is a blinding obvious need especially in 20 years time.nnWe’re going to have a similarly stagnant arguement over new generation, nuclear, of which there is also no alternative because of short sighted politics. a 4 year term will never address the solutions we need for 25 years time. Before people say wind or tidal, we cant build 6000 turbines or 12GW of tidal before 2025, when 50% of our energy supply (coal and nuclear) is due to be decomissioned, all because previous political terms failed to address the future need and push renewables from the 90s, but the decision was “easy” for them then, nuclear costs were (wrongly) predicted as a tenth of renewables.

  10. Has anyone who is against HS2 ever used or been near HS1? The line runs through some fantastic pieces of Kent countryside yet, not once, have I seen it destroy the look of it. The use of tunnels would no doubt reduce this effect.nnSecondly, noise?? The 140mph restricted Javelins that operate with Southeastern are far less noisy than the 125mph Pendilino’s that run the Virgin WCML services. Not only that, but at the speed they operate, the noise levels would be minimal just for the fact the units won’t even be in the area for that long!!nnThe WCML between London and Birmingham needs some extra capacity badly. I’ve used the Virgin services many a time and the peak service is always busy. Off-peak is not so bad, but peak is a nightmare. HS2 is needed, simple

  11.  The energy required to run the train is directly proportional to the
    square of the speed of the train (due to aerodynamic drag). This means a train
    travelling at 300kph rather than 200kph will require about 2.25 times
    the amount of energy for the trip. The power is directly proporional to
    the cube and so it would require 3.375 times the power.

    The money planned to be spent on HS2 could be invested in improving the
    efficiency of the current network. 125mph is still a lot faster than one
    can go in a car in this country. Therefore, in order to outperform the
    trains primary rival, the car, greater capacity on present mainlines and
    far better connecting services would be a far more efficient solution.
    More capacity/services on lines would allow a greater variety of
    services and therefore less stops on the fastest trains on a line and shorter connection times.

  12. Cameron is running a very real risk of railroading many of his traditional supporters (myself included) into suporting UKIP or any other party or politician that opposes HS2 at either the local or national level.It will most certainly win him no votes in the Labour controled North and will definatly cost him dearly in the Tory controled strongholds along the proposed routes in the South.The damage to our enviroment from this project is totaly unaceptable and all for what,to save 30 mis journey time to Birmingham of all places?

    There is no business case for this project whatsoever,as a country we should be investing in, Hospitals,Education,Defense as well as existing rail networks.Poll after poll demonstrates clearly that voters North or South do not support this massive waste of Taxpayers money.I am absolutly certain that the voting public will punish any politician of any party who continues to support this unwanted gravey train the very first opportunity.

  13. Good Roads, what Good Roads, it’s a myth from the Sixty’s.
    If you can’t improve and expand the Airports in the South of England, then you had better start improving the decrepit Railways.

  14. Sod the environmental concerns, HS2 will be little more than an over expensive investment sump that will drain money from the rest of the network.
    Far better to increase capacity be upgrading the existing network with reinstatement of some of the cross country routes axed by Beeching.

  15. HS2 is an economic waste of time, it will jeopordise Bombardier and British train building. The concept of the HS2 is illogical, there is no financial or any practical gain for the general pubilc, the project will finish in 2026, ticket prices will be sky high and the time table will be no more advantageous than it is at the moment, if not worse!

  16. Why doesn’t the government just upgrade the line, signalling and whatever else on the east coast. this will unlock the full 140mph potential of the Class 91s and their tilting mechanism to create more space on the east coast. then we wouldn’t have to spend billions on a new railway that would make journeys 10 minutes faster.

  17. “No amount of tinkering with ever longer platforms and trains or
    additional sets of tracks alongside the existing main lines will
    produce this extra capacity”

    How is adding new lanes to existing lines not going to increase capacity? So you’re basically saying we shouldn’t increase the number of terminals or runways at airports, we should just build new airports right beside them? Truth be told we already have lines going north, they’re just ancient and in desperate need of improvement. The class 390 doesn’t run at full speed. The class 375 on c2c line doesn’t run at full speed. Why are we building new lines when existing lines should be improved and expanded?

    Correct me if I’m wrong but the 390s could be travelling at 140mph as opposed to 120mph, that’s a mere 50mph behind Germany’s ICE. On the c2c line, from Shoeburyness to Fenchurch Street we could increase the 375s maximum speed to 100mph instead of 75mph. ECML can receive new stock from Bombardier in Derby (saving jobs and a damn good manufacturer) that could run at 150mph+ should the line be upgraded and new lanes installed. New platforms, more lanes, better track (especially to take advantage of tilt tech) is the way to go.

    What happens when HS2 gets full? Do we simply build HS3 going in between HS2 and ECML?

    • You talk a lot of rubbish about my opinions. Railways schedules are much more intellectual than over priced foreign twaddle. Profit making railways don’t rely on false schedules and exorbitant pollutants like electric high speed trains. We can save the Uk economy without money laundering Chinamen and their fascist ideals.

        • Why did you email your stupid argument in the first place. Why not contemplate the rubbish Hitachi waste of money missing the siding deadline at the points, resulting with a high speed rail crash AND THE RUBBISH HITACHI SHORTING OUT IN IN A THUNDER STORM AND RESULTING IN A FATAL RAIL CRASH OF NO CONSEQUENSE WITH THE OTHER RUBBISH TRAIN OF NO CONSEQUENSE.


          • Wait, are you even aware that I’m against HS2? I don’t have anything against the 395s and have travelled on them a few times. You know what I’d love to see? Two more lanes added to WCML with new rolling stock from Bombadier Derby works and not Siemens.

  18. I do believe building more station platforms could be a good idea, I believe building more track beside existing ones is a good idea, I believe reopening disused branchlines is a good idea all to improve the performance of railways. ( I am actually descended from the original landowners/farmers over the centuries at Heathrow airport, Goddard, King, Mills and { Henry } Jarvis. If people want to pay me rent they ought to according the land registry and  I will demand rent )
     I know for a fact the a senior Hitachi executive was convicted of money laundering, £1 billion pounds to be precise. I suspect the HS1 and HS2 is little more than money laundering project.

    • I am in the direct family lineage of Henry Jarvis, I am the next in line after my father whose dad ,Harold (my grandfather)who died in 1971, whose wife and widower Joyce died recently.

  19. There are too many pollutants in building the Hitachi HS1 & HS2 ie, the magnets in the engines.
    There are too many pollutants in building wind turbines perhaps.  High speed train travel is not very profitable in relation to fulling the maximum capacity of the UK rail network. China is worse for the Uk economy than Siemens and Bombardier can admire the cost effective price tag of Siemens. Bribery to some starts with a cup of tea and ends with an empty cup of tea!

  20. I have yet to be convinced that HS2 is necessary.  The argument that it will greatly benefit commuter traffic from Milton Keynes etc. is suspect.  I am a great admirer of Gordon Pettitt who is championing HS2 (he is an old boss of mine – yes I’m a retired railwayman) but feel the billions would be better spent a) on the existing network b) renationalizing the whole damn railway.  The crowding on the WCML (notably London-Manchester) can easily be eased by lengthening Pendolinos; a scheme now in hand but thwarted and delayed by government dithering and franchising complications.
    What is needed is a route mainly dedicated to freight such as reopening the GC route; this would relieve much of the WCML congestion.

    • Like that Nigel, a real railway man speaking..! bout time too… these office boys have no idea. Re-nationalization is certainly the way to go to get rid of the players, railways are serious business and some of these comics just don’t have a clue. Time the GOV woke up to their responsibilities to the people instead of frittering away taxpayers money.

  21. What people seldom realise is that the growth dynamics always go forward, whether it be with a new motorway, air routes or railways. Railways are far better equipped to supply greener alternatives to the former. In other words scrap the railway, and have a six lane motorway instead! If we do not move forward with the growth of the rest of the Europe we are doomed to decline as an offshore island with east European life quality.
    Bill Simpson

  22. The HS2 will be a complete disaster. The infrastuture is not there the new line will be a waste of TAXPAYERS money and who wants to pay any more fare increases to fund a WHITE ELEPHANT

  23. Typical of PTB’s, always wanting things they can’t have, little boys with big trains that cost a fortune and are only available to people who can afford to travel on them. Lunacy to even consider blowing another 30b ( and what sort of garantee is that)? when the existing system is not even finished for HS1. This will be another cock-up always at the wrong time, the wrong people making the decisions again for prestige and eventual anonimity.. how many times since 1948 has this happened..? Time to get sorted on this question, get some real experts in and see what they say..

  24. I am in favour of the HS2 and like to think we are least “catching up” with europe and their more advanced rail network. I have lived in Barcelona and there is no doubt that high speead rail works. Within weeks of their line opening the internal flights to Madrid had been canceled as there is no airport lounge to grow old in, you can work on the train and at least on the Spanish railways, the staff are pleasent.

    However, I am concerned at the way anybody who is involved with requests for reinstatement of ..dare I say it “branch lines” is utterly ingored and there is no government financial help on offer for any project in England, the most recent being rejected is Bristol to Portishead ..a city that is desperate need of alternatives.

    These lines are key to the future of transport by the masses but as we speak they are still being ripped up in favour of rapid bus transit schemes due to the part funding by bus companies.

    Heritage lines alike are expanding at a rate and are profitable, my point is I find it incredable that individuals have to stand outside the Woodhead Tunnel in Yorkshire for instance and use their own time and effort to try and save yet another hugley important transport link from being destroyed when it obviously needed for at the very least freight.

    Having spoken with transport councilors on the South Coast they appear dead against rail as there is no government interest even though some lines are deemed profitable by ATOC.

    One such ATOC project recently rejected is the Ringwood to Brockenhurst line, 11 miles of track that can be put back at the snap of a finger yet the New Forset Council estimate that the cost is three times more than the 74m project (ohh yes and the enviromental cost…apparently).

    My concern therefore is, why should ths HS2 project be funded to such a level when people at a local level are screaming out for an alternative for the car and yet people trying to have their lines reienstated are being wafted away like an annoying fly.

  25. I think that we should reinstate the many railway lines that were closed in the 60s. We don’t need any new lines, we just need the old ones back. 


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