Britain's High Speed Rail Network

Barry Garwood

Whilst I support the idea of a high speed rail network, current proposals for the HS2 link between London, Birmingham and beyond defy common sense, or economic logic.

The proposal to spend over 50 billion on a project that will save a few minutes, on a journey between London and Birmingham, is a huge price to pay in times of such economic austerity.

The line from Euston will not even link up with the rest of the European high speed network, which terminates at St Pancras. International travellers will need to negotiate busy London streets, by bus, taxi, on foot, or else take the tube, along with all their baggage. Any time saved by a slightly quicker journey will be lost in the transfer between stations.

The proposal to shave a few minutes off journeys between Central England and London, at such huge cost, seems narrow minded. It would require buying up some of the most expensive land and property in the country, to cross North-West London and the Home Counties, while providing little benefit for most of those affected by the route.

A more sensible option would be to link with the existing network at Stratford in East London, allowing travellers from the north direct access to both London and the European network.

Existing, but little used lines along the Lea Valley could mean little need to acquire further land within the capital. The route could pass Stanstead, Cambridge, Peterborough, Hull, Leeds and Newcastle, across the largely flat and not too densely populated land of Eastern England, where line construction would be relatively cheap and straightforward, before going on to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.

Branches could reach Birmingham, Manchester and the north-west, either along existing routes, or by building new high speed links, as appropriate. Such a visionary project would shave hours off journey times between Scotland, Northern England and Continental Europe, making the train a real alternative to the plane.

In these days of high speed internet connection, with online conferencing readily available and the technology improving rapidly, there is a decreasing need for face to face meetings. Although personal meetings won't ever be replaced entirely, it is doubtful that such great expense, to facilitate slightly shorter journeys for relatively small numbers, can really be justified.

Chinese investors may be keen to fund the project, but it will be at a price. In spite of assurances from developers that the project could be built on budget, there is no guarantee of this. It is likely that the developers will profit, while the ordinary rail travellers and members of the public will be left to pay. HS2 seems to have as much to do with profits for developers as it has to do with benefits for the wider population of Britain and the rest of Europe.

3 December 2013