Thursday, May 24, 2012

High Speed 2 must go ahead – without the usual delays

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High Speed 2 will not be available to us any time soon. The project’s first phase between London and the West Midlands, will become operational in 2026. It’s a very large and complex project and it’s going to take a while.

It’s going to take a lot longer if we continue to indulge those who are finding reasons to delay it. It’s also going to cost a lot more.

Parliament agrees. High Speed 2 is the only conceivable way to solve the UK’s future rail transport issues. Today’s commons report presents no alternative to the new high speed line, currently approved to begin construction.

Yet opponents of the project continue to find excuses, citing environmental, practical and economic reasons to delay the inevitable.

I’m not knocking the convictions of the various environmental groups raising objection. Of course the Woodland Trust is objecting to the loss of woodland. They would hardly be doing their job if they didn’t. But at what point do these groups, whose good intentions and hard work are admirable, accept that a significant increase in rail use is simply good for the environment. End of story. The contribution of a proper, functioning UK rail network to the environment will be massive. We should all accept the big picture and help to make it happen.

The practical objections barely merit discussion, relying as they do on a mixture of faulty logic and wide eyed naivety.

It’s impossible to argue that existing rail lines can handle the increasing demand. There is no maths that works – not more trains, not longer trains with more carriages, and certainly not upgrades to existing lines (did you travel on the West Coast Main Line during the three year upgrade?) We need the new bandwidth that High Speed 2 will provide.

The argument that the impact will not be significant to travel times might need some work when you’re talking to commuting parents with young children. My daily commute from Manchester to London takes four hours a day. On High Speed 2 it would take a little over two hours a day. That’s two spare hours a day given back to my life and family. Ten hours a week. What parent, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or yoga enthusiast wouldn’t want that time back? Question the benefits all you want, but if the reward were half that amount of time I would fight you for it.

Economic justifications depend on where you stand politically, but whatever your philosophy for the stimulation of faltering economies, one thing is hard to avoid - there will be tens of thousands of uk rail jobs, from manual labour to white collar management. (You can take our word for it - Talascend did the engineering staffing for High Speed 1 – it’s a major shot in the arm for the construction industry.) Just as trains are good for the environment, jobs are good for the economy. There is no one on the other side of that argument.

So let’s get on with it and let’s do it right. Crossrail suffered ridiculous delays when we all knew it would be built eventually and Crossrail 2 will surely suffer the same delays. The shutdown of High Speed 1 itself in 1998 added a fortune to the cost of delivery.

We have to commit to High Speed Rail. The big picture is impossible to get away from. Rail travel is practical, environmentally friendly and good for the economy, now and in the future.