HS2, a 250mph high-speed train connecting London to the Midlands and beyond, is an enormous undertaking affecting many people; consequently it has sparked huge controversy. Although my gut reaction is to oppose HS2, it is good to consider the arguments that brought about the conception of such a contested infrastructure project.
The main argument for the construction of HS2 is the economic benefits it will bring. According to some sources such as Campaign for High Speed Rail and some MPs, HS2 will be a catalyst for growth and productivity in the UK. The London-West Midlands section alone is projected to create 40,000 jobs. HS2 has already invested in the construction of the College for High Speed Rail (NCHSR) in Birmingham, with an aim to train world-class rail engineers. In addition, HS2 is envisaged to help rebalance the north/south divide, it will be ‘an engine for growth in the North and West Midlands’, promising that 70% of jobs created will be outside of London.
Unfortunately, all these stats come from the KPMG government funded report, and it is yet to be seen whether Birmingham and other cities on the route will in fact benefit, or if they will become new Brightons, with sky-high rent and jobs centred on commuting to London.
The second biggest argument for its construction is it will be good for the environment, and on this topic there are many optimistic forecasts from the line’s backers. HS2 will move 4.5 million journeys from the air and 9 million journeys from the road. It will open up space on existing rail networks for freight, taking 100s of HGVs off the road and will free up capacity on overcrowded commuter routes. Moreover, some studies confirm that high speed rail is among one of the most carbon efficient mass transport modes. Additionally, HS2 will be electric, so moving towards greener energy supplies. Other things to consider are that an Environmental Committee will mitigate the impact to ancient woodland and habitat, 2 million trees will be planted along the route creating new habitats, and steps have been taken to cut CO2 emissions produced by the construction of HS2, for example contracts with conditions requiring the use of low carbon vehicles.
Again, it is impossible to predict the real outcome of all of these calculations and the real environmental impact the project will have, and at +56bn, I personally feel, it’s not something worth betting on!