The UK government has finally launched a consultation on HS2 – a £33bn programme to develop a 250mph high-speed railway between London and Birmingham (with further plans down the line (excuse the pun) to extend it into Scotland). Proponents make bold claims about ‘bridging the north-south divide’ and HS2 being ‘good for the economy’. It will ferry BUSY BUSY BUSINESSPEOPLE to and from The London (it’s anticipated that 30% of travellers will earn over £70,000 per year) and will be good for the economy. Did I say that already? Oops.
200 miles of new track will be built, but the nature of the lines means they will need to be very, very straight. Which means there are significant limits on any course deviations, which in turn means large parts of Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire will be cut up, and people like the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Green Party are understandably concerned.
(But it WILL be really really good for the economy.)
Now there are a lot of people railing (another pun: I can’t help myself) against opposition to these lines, saying things like “Basically the greens don’t want people to travel. They want to to stay in one place and preferably just die”. But this isn’t a tree-hugging, stuck-in-the-past obstruction of economic progress; this is a reasonable protest to a plan which could be harmful on many levels.
The environment will suffer, as railway lines career through the countryside, irrespective of what gets in their way. It’s not just about a thin scar across the landscape; it’s about fragmentation of green spaces and animal habitats (including breeding grounds). Secondly, as rich people transfer onto HS2, we could end up with a two-tiered railway system, with the poor on one line and the rich on another. This type of social stratification helps no one. Thirdly, how exactly will the north-south economic divide be bridged? As the train rattles down the line, perhaps a beautiful rainbow will stream from its rear, depositing shiny gold coins by the track for Northern Folk to pick up and spend. Or maybe the BUSY BUSY BUSINESSPEOPLE will throw money out the windows? Running a train track up the country will not magically make everyone better off. Businesspeople will travel from the north to The London and vice versa. Fourthly, we’re talking about eventually shaving off 30 minutes from an already reasonable journey time. Really? £33bn for THAT?
This project is uneconomical and a bad idea on so many levels. Why not electrify the whole system? Subsidise train tickets (which are already prohibitively expensive for many people), add more carriages upgrade the lines….these all make much more sense. It seems that rather than fix a faulty system, government would prefer to spend a King’s ransom on a NEW system.
But hey, it IS good for the economy…..