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HS2: Both sides of the argument become more entrenched
When potential plans to build a new high speed rail link in the UK were first announced, it immediately produced a huge rift between members of the general public. High speed 2 (HS2) was proposed as a huge new rail network, which would first link Birmingham and London, and then later in stage two link Birmingham to Manchester on one line and Birmingham to Leeds on another. This route essentially forms a Y shape up the spine of the country and spreads into both Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. There have also been suggestions that the line could continue north to link Scotland as well. High speed rail in the UK is supported by all three main political parties and in January 2012, the coalition government approved the first section of the scheme which is set to begin construction in 2017. However there is a lengthy debate over whether or not the HS2 service will be beneficial and as the estimated cost of the project continues to rise, some commentators are questioning the value of the project.
Arguments for the construction of HS2 are numerous. Firstly high speed rail networks have been built across Europe since the 1980’s and the UK lags very far behind its immediate European neighbours (Spain, France and Germany) in terms of modern and advanced rail networks, with the UK’s only high speed link being that of the channel tunnel link to France. Secondly it is thought that these networks will allow rapid travel between some UK cities and have the knock on effects of increasing commerce and development. Linked in to this is the potential for the UK’s cities to become more easily accessible for visitors from continental Europe. Furthermore this network is thought to be able to relieve the highly strained existing rail networks that have for years suffered from underinvestment and very high passenger volumes. Coupled with this is the relieving of the motorway network with the thought being that better rail links will convince motorists to choose alternative modes of transport. Then of course there is the benefit to the economy of pumping billions into the construction industry. There are many others.
However the opposite side of the argument is just as extensive in its criticism. One of the strongest is the environmental concerns, opposition supporters suggest that tearing up vast swathes of the countryside to build the network, and the huge environmental cost of producing the materials needed to create HS2 outweigh any benefits. Moreover, the cost has come into question as it continues to rise and is still only an estimate, at the time of writing £42bn (approximately $66 bn) was the proposed cost of the Y link, but some recent reports from the Institute of Economic Affairs suggest this is far too low and the real cost could be double this estimate. Some think that the rail link will simply not be used and its immense cost will mean that rail fares (which are already considered to be very high by consumers on existing links) will to be too high for the vast majority of the UK to afford. It has been suggested that this money could be better spent elsewhere, on inner city housing projects or improving transport systems in cities rather than between them. Again there are many other arguments.
Big names have waded into both sides of the argument, and recently New Labour heavyweight, Peter Mandelson suggested that the whole scheme was a “costly mistake”. This has led some commentators to suggest that the Labour party may be about to change its policy and come out against the scheme as it attempts to manoeuvre itself into a strong position for the next general election. However both opposition leader Ed Miliband and ex transport secretary Andrew Adonis seem set in their current policy of support for the scheme. Whatever your opinion on the new rail link, it is clear HS2 has got off to a rough start with the huge protests against the scheme and the constant upward revisions of the costing estimates. Although the scheme has been officially approved it remains to be seen if it is still in place come 2017.
For more, please read our ‘Industry Report on UK Road & Rail Sector‘.