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High Speed 2 picks up steam

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Any doubts that the Coalition Government had wavered in its support for HS2 were dispelled at the end of January.

Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, announced the line would be built through to Leeds and Manchester from Birmingham. After the necessary public consultation the final route will be decided on by the end of 2014. Andy Milne reports.

Although public opposition to HS2 remains high, local leaders, the business community and the rail industry back the scheme. Why are economists, academics and politicians behind high speed rail? For the rail industry it is an easy answer – RailStaff readers will build the track and signalling and drive and crew the trains.

Our advertisers will supply the expertise and equipment needed to do the job. However the real argument for High Speed Two goes much deeper, right to the heart of how Britain sees itself prospering in the 21st century.

Anyone looking briefly at Britain last year saw a stable democracy governed by a popular monarch, a country capable of coming third in the Olympic Games medal tally. Keeping well clear of the Euro seems to have spared Britain the agonies of mainland Europe’s deepening monetary crisis.

Zipping along to the London Olympics on a re-engineered London Underground system, High Speed One and Southeastern’s excellent Javelin trains was to experience Britain at its cheerful best.

A deeply uncertain future

However the reality is Britain and the British face a deeply uncertain future. The last half of the 20th century saw Britain surrender a 200 year tenure of global maritime dominance. Not by losing colonial wars but largely because the British concluded empire was wrong, expensive and a political embarrassment.

This is the point of view taught in schools throughout the UK. Joining the European Union, the rise of Scots and Welsh nationalism and the troubles in Northern Ireland made the British weary of their very identity. Loss of confidence is best illustrated by the widespread use of the adjectival term ‘UK’ – as in ‘the UK government’ or ‘a UK firm.’

Difficult wars in Afghanistan and Iraq compounded the situation. The railways, once the arteries of Britain’s industrial triumph, were wound down and over half the network closed. Traditional industries fared little better.

Detractors claim the UK is a small island tacked on to the north European coast. The weather is appalling, health provision unrealistic and crime and riot never far from public paranoia.

A sense of confidence

Such pessimistic perceptions are fast changing now. Last year marked a turning point. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics not only boosted morale but helped restore a sense of confidence and purpose among Her Majesty’s subjects.

Underscoring this new confidence, railways have expanded carrying double the amount of passengers as they did 50 years ago on half the track. No wonder trains are crowded.

Rail freight has boxed clever piling up container traffic and opening up new markets. Tram systems thread many major cities and are themselves poised for expansion. Railways of every description are an essential element of the new success equation and urgently need to expand. The visionaries of Britain’s future are backing a winner.

Unified Britain

The Coalition Government and local leaders realise a unified Britain needs to be tight and cohesive to compete with emerging economies like China and Brazil.

Unifying a country does not only depend on staging superb international sports shows. The future for a new Britain will depend on it being confident and cohesive with a transport system that matches economic aspiration.

A new high speed railway linking London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester and eventually Edinburgh and Glasgow will best achieve this. High speed rail will help spread the powerhouse effect of London and the south east. Moreover it will unite the north with the south. A link with Scotland is an essential part of this, as David Shirres explains.

Good for Britain

High Speed Two will diminish the social disconnect between London and the north in a way that state social spending programmes never can. 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 commerce and good for Britain.

Building new railways is never easy and involves disrupting countryside and people’s homes. However the government is pressing ahead with conviction.

As Mr McLoughlin said, ‘I’m afraid we will upset some people, but I appreciate that and we’ve got totryanddoasmuchaswecanto alleviate the damage wherever we can. You can’t build a brand new line and not have problems. There will be some areas where you are going to have to negotiate.’

What is not in doubt is the role railways are already playing in Britain’s Olympian comeback. Developing high speed rail makes political as well as economic sense. The message from the scheme’s supporters is clear: If you want to do something positive for your country’s future – back HS2.


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