There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it’s still worth doing

For all the legitimate concerns with High Speed Rail, it's still worth pressing ahead with, writes Richard George, roads and climate campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport.

Richard George is a roads and climate campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport

The battle to defend west London – and, somewhat indirectly, global climate – from the expansion of Heathrow airport was notable for many reasons. But it was the cross-party alliance between environmental organisations, community groups, local residents and businesses which really made the headlines. Suddenly it wasn’t just hippies or people directly affected challenging the plans, but the former CEO of British Airways and the head of B&Q attacking BAA’s plans to bury Sipson under tarmac.

Is that same alliance forming against the government’s plans for a high-speed rail line between London and the Midlands?

This morning, 21 businessmen, CEOs and parliamentarians wrote to the Telegraph, describing the rail scheme as a “vanity project” which would cost every family in Britain £1,000 and take money away from more socially-necessary public services, “such as education and scientific research”.

Their letter comes hot-on-the-heels of a barrage of criticism from across the environmental movement. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas wrote in the Guardian that HS2 “does not deliver objectives on climate change or sustainable development”, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England has condemned the consultation process as having “changed little since the days of 19th-century railway barons”.

Even pro-public transport groups, including the one I work for, the Campaign for Better Transport, have expressed our concerns about the proposals.

It is therefore tempting to see today’s letter in the context of Heathrow’s equitable alliance. But that would be a mistake. It is, instead, an attempt to subvert what should be a positive and sustainable proposal – and still could be, if only the government could refrain from dismissing anyone who voiced concerns as “NIMBYS” – and to redirect surface transport policy towards new motorways, climate change and endless traffic jams.

The 21 signatories claim to be standing up for families and businesses across the country, struggling with rising taxes and public service cuts. But many of their businesses are inextricably connected to road or air transport.

The signatories comprise two CEOs of road haulage firms, Keltruck and Cadogan Tate Group; Dawsongroup, which rents out lorries and other vehicles; a company which sells electronics to the aviation industry, H R Smith Group; and an oil and gas exploration company, Serica Energy.

They’re joined by the heads of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Lord Lawson, each of whose views on climate change and the need to mitigate it are well known; John Hoerner, a former head of Philip Green’s Arcadia group; and a spattering of companies who distribute their products primarily by road.

That is not to dismiss their arguments out of hand, of course. That someone makes their living from moving goods by road does not automatically render them unable to comment objectively on the merits of rail (just as living near a proposed high-speed line shouldn’t disqualify you from commenting on it). Certainly their suggestion that over-crowded commuter lines should be an investment priority bears consideration.

But their proposal that we should spend even more money widening the nation’s motorways belongs in the dustbin of history, where the transport secretary has rightly placed it.

Similarly, their argument that the rail service between London and Manchester is so great that there are few flights between the two cities is simply untrue. Manchester is the fourth most frequent destination from Heathrow, with 32 flights a day, as well as daily flights from London’s other major airports, Gatwick and Stansted.

Factor in the potential to encourage people flying (or driving) further north to travel instead by rail and HS2 should be an opportunity to fundamentally redress the present bias towards air and road for domestic travel.

High-speed rail is not without its problems. The government would be well advised to engage with opposition groups and those affected by the plans. It should also look to other countries with high-speed lines, such as France, Germany and Spain, for guidance on integrating faster trains with more prosaic public transport. It also needs to reverse retrograde plans to drive people off the railways through a 3 per cent above inflation fares hike.

But to scrap the plans altogether, as this letter urges them to do, would be to throw out the baby, the bathwater and indeed the bath, simply because there is an issue with the colour of the taps.

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29 Responses to “There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it’s still worth doing”

  1. Richard Hebditch

    RT @leftfootfwd: There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it's still worth doing: http://bit.ly/eJkxXc #HS2 #HighSpeedRail

  2. TransportActionGroup

    RT @leftfootfwd: There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it's still worth doing: http://bit.ly/eJkxXc #HS2 #HighSpeedRail

  3. Greengauge 21

    RT @leftfootfwd: There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it's still worth doing: http://bit.ly/eJkxXc #HS2 #HighSpeedRail

  4. Richard George

    Just blogged on @leftfootfwd re: letter in Telegraph about HS2. The Government should amend, not scrap, proposals. http://bit.ly/hxZWo2

  5. Simon

    There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it’s still worth doing http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/03/high-speed-rail/

  6. Martin Tiedemann

    RT @leftfootfwd: There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it's still worth doing: http://bit.ly/eJkxXc #HS2 #HighSpeedRail

  7. Nettle

    Funny, I would have thought the signatories working in the transport industry particularly well placed to comment on a transport scheme. Knowledge of the sector could be considered to be useful.

    Spending £30bn on one ultra high speed passenger train will be at the detriment of investment in many other transport schemes. Millions of people struggle every day with an underfunded transport system. Encourage investment in what we have, not in a politicians’ vanity project.

  8. Chris Bowden-Smith

    RT @leftfootfwd: There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it's still worth doing: http://bit.ly/eJkxXc #HS2 #HighSpeedRail

  9. Richard Hebditch

    My coilleague Richard George has a blog on @leftfootfwd on TPA opposition to HS2 (headline isn't quite our line on it) http://bit.ly/gpuHVh

  10. Richard Hebditch

    My colleague Richard George has a blog on @leftfootfwd on TPA opposition to HS2 (headline isn't quite our line on HSR) http://bit.ly/gpuHVh

  11. Joss Garman

    Brilliant piece on @leftfootfwd on High Speed rail. Let's be clear folks, this isn't Heathrow's runway 3. http://bit.ly/hxZWo2

  12. Dave

    I think you’ll find all business are ‘inextricably connected to road or air transport’. To think otherwise is naïve.
    The haulage industry doesn’t make unnecessary journeys; trucks aren’t travelling for the sheer hell of it, they are out on the road delivering goods that we the consumers like to buy and need to survive.
    If you want to reduce congestion and pollution try getting town planners, architects and businesses to design, build and service habitats and shops that are all within walking distance of everyone’s house thus promoting localism. Every community needs to be serviced. Bring back the ability to get all you need in a local environment.
    Anyone who thinks rail, even a poorly conceived idea like the high-speed rail link, is going help anyone except the few simply doesn’t understand time, motion and distance.
    For example; I live in a village, I need some milk and alcohol and tabs, the local shop has long closed because 50% of the houses in the village are second homes for city dwellers who use them twice a year, I need to travel a 14 mile round trip to the nearest supermarket, train links closed with Beechings cuts in 1967 but the track has been replaced with a nice shiny road, buses run on the hour every hour between 8am and 5pm thus taking at least three hours so you can’t leave after three because you won’t get back, the push bike will take me 90 minutes at least providing I don’t get knocked off on the nice shiny road, taxi will cost upwards of £20, using the car takes 20 minutes…um, let me think now. I know I should sell up and move to the city where everything is within walking distance.
    For example; I work in the nearest town because my local industry (for example, glove cutting, mining, textiles, engineering, construction) is now longer there, I need to travel seven miles to get to work, train links closed with Beechings cuts in 1967 but the track has been replaced with a nice shiny road, buses run on the hour every hour between 8am and 5pm but I start at seven and finish at four, the push bike will take me 45 minutes to an hour providing I don’t get knocked off on the nice shiny road so I must be up at 5.30am, taxi will cost upwards of £10, using the car takes 10 minutes…um, let me think now. I know I should sell up and move to the city and get a job where I can walk to work.
    For the majority of us, Richard, that is the problem. Solve that and you begin to solve congestion and pollution.

  13. tomjennings

    RT @jossgarman Brilliant piece by @leftfootfwd on High Speed rail. Let's be clear, this isn't Heathrow's runway 3. http://bit.ly/hxZWo2

  14. futerra

    RT @tomjennings: RT @jossgarman piece by @leftfootfwd on High Speed rail. Let's be clear, this isn't Heathrow runway 3. http://bit.ly/hxZWo2

  15. Joe Rukin

    Please don’t talk about this taking people out of the air. If that were to be the case, why is it joining up airports?

    As for capacity, three words; Rail Rackage Two. More benefits to more people, quicker and cheaper.

  16. Tom Spencer

    RT @leftfootfwd: There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it's still worth doing: http://bit.ly/eJkxXc #HS2 #HighSpeedRail

  17. Eleanor Besley

    great alternative perspective @richardgeorge RT @leftfootfwd: concerns with High Speed Rail but it's still worth doing http://bit.ly/h4tclc

  18. Taylor

    HS2 will be socially regressive, a fast train for fat cats paid for by every taxpayer in the country.

    Current fares from London – Manchester are £267.00 by train and £10.50 by coach. That is the reality of transport for the man in the street. Not some swanky new train line for politicians and rich businessmen.

  19. Arthur

    The country should not be trying to catch up on a non sustainable mode of transport but should be leading the way in the development of less energy intensive and more environmentally friendly transport systems.

    People will always want cars. It’s the propulsion system that needs to change. In light of the latest oil scare perhaps some of that £30 billion would be better spent developing the technology and infrastructure for the future. Now that really would be in the national interest.

  20. Richard George

    I don’t disagree with many of the comments here, especially about Dave’s suggestions that we need to get planning and transport right, and Taylor’s point about the cost of rail fares. They’re too high. (Visit //www.fairfaresn.w.org.uk to help us make them cheaper, simpler and fairer!)

    Without choices – i.e. a bus that runs more frequently than once an hour, or a train that you can afford to get on – people will have no option but to drive.

    Neither is HS2 unalloyed goodness. There are real issues with it, as we point out in our briefing on HS2: http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/campaigns/trains/high-speed-white+paper.

    The Government’s approach – to label everyone a NIMBY and treat public debate like a prize fight – is not the right way to handle this. But neither is it right to scrap the plans entirely because some road haulage companies, Nigel Lawson and the TaxPayers’ Alliance want the money spent on new roads.

  21. NickK

    I am really struggling to see the logic of this ‘cheap trains’ argument. Our Victorian rail network cost roughly 40% more to operate and maintain than its European peers; the government already pours £6bn a year in subsidy into a network that is simply unsustainably expensive. But there is the twin challenege that despite the cost, ridership is still growing — so it cannot be too expensive for everyone!

    We are constantly told that HS2 will be a railway for a ‘rich few’, but that’s what we’ll have inevitably unless we build in more capacity. How can cheap seats be sold for busy routes when simply put, the market will fill the trains anyway? Far more seats on busy routes are what we need. HS2 is part of the answer — and it pains me to say it as a northerner, that means investing in trains to London. Currently £22bn is being spent today — in the middle of the cuts — on three London rail projects. At least HS2 benefits at least 7 other cities.

    Commuter congestion on rail services in regional cities is acute but the problem is that these trains are too empty at the rest of the time, so it’s not economic to fund the extra trains. Also sadly many of these trains are diesel, and the long term uncertainty about oil and traction technology means new diesel trains are prohibitively expensive.

    Want signs of hope? The long overdue expansion of Manchester Metrolink and Tyne & Wear Metro. HS2 will complement these.

  22. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it's still worth doing http://bit.ly/h4tclc

  23. Mr. Sensible

    Couldn’t agree more Richard.

    The 1 thing I would say is that investment in this project should come alongside, not instead of investment in the existing network.

  24. Mark Smith

    Good article Richard. Listening to the road haulage chap on radio 5 this morning, it was clear he hadn’t properly read around the subject. Plus his obvious bias was difficult to take. Remove the people with an obvious agenda from the list and you only have a handful or random businessmen.

    That said, investment in local rail development is needed as well (the lack of east-west lines in the midlands is appaling). A moratorium on new road building and all investment put into maintaining existing roads and building new sustainable transport infrastructure is the way forward.

  25. HACAN

    Well-researched article uncovers the road lobby connections of the business people opposed to high-speed rail – http://bit.ly/hxZWo2

  26. Heston CDA

    Well-researched article uncovers the road lobby connections of the business people opposed to high-speed rail – http://t.co/l0fpxcm

  27. How to do high speed rail well | Left Foot Forward

    […] for high speed rail have come under sustained criticism from those opposed to them at all costs, mainly from those living near the proposed route and from those opposed to spending on high speed rail […]

  28. Anonymous

    No mention of the cost.

    No mention of the return on the invest.

    Not surprised, its a negative return. People won’t pay the price to make it viable economically.

  29. cheap train tickets

    BRAVO!wonderful presentation for a presenting an importing concept. brilliant work!

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