How to do high speed rail well

Richard Hebditch of the Campaign for Better Transport outlines what the government need to know to do high speed rail well.

High speed rail

Richard Hebditch is campaigns director for the Campaign for Better Transport

The government’s plans 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 rather than more road building. But this has meant that there’s been little check of whether the plans could be improved. That’s why CPRE and the Campaign for Better Transport have been working with other
organisations to set out how to “do high speed well”.

The “Right Lines Charter” group aims to make sure that the HS2 proposals actually deliver what the country needs. We think that there are four key principles that we need from high speed rail.

Firstly, the proposals need to be part of a coherent long-term transport strategy. At the moment the government’s transport policy seems to mainly consist of finding a post-hoc rationale for the government’s cuts following the spending review. This is particularly true in terms of climate change where policy is based on gambling on a massive uptake of electric vehicles from the 2020s onwards to achieve the reductions in carbon from transport.

Secondly, the proposals need to be properly tested against different scenarios. Much of the business case for high speed rail is based on projecting current trends well into the future rather than a more fundamental analysis of the changes that could be expected with rising energy costs and the need to cut carbon.

Thirdly, we think that the public should be able to have their say when all options are on the table, not just at the end when the government has pretty much decided on where the line goes and how it will be rolled out.

And finally, the worst impacts of the line on local environments could be avoided if the government wasn’t so committed to designing the HS2 line for the highest speeds imaginable.

The plans for HS2 could be much better but the government could end up getting away with them unless we have an honest debate about what’s on offer.

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7 Responses to “How to do high speed rail well”

  1. Richard Hebditch

    RT @leftfootfwd: How to do high speed rail well: writes @RichardHebditch

  2. Civic Voice

    RT @leftfootfwd: How to do high speed rail well: writes @RichardHebditch

  3. Jonathan Phillips

    The French are working on experimental HSTs running at 500km/h. Wow. To what extent are proposals for HS lines in Britain based on envy of our continental neighbours, rather than on rational considerations of the best ways – substantial but piecemeal – of maximising the return on investment in terms of economically efficient and environmentally benign transport services?

  4. ellispritchard

    RT @leftfootfwd: How to do high speed rail well: writes @RichardHebditch

  5. cleancartalk

    How to do high speed rail well

  6. John Ruddy

    I think these are mostly worthy objectives. The sad thing is that I dont think the motives of some of those behind this initiative are totally transparent. There seems to be some feeling against high speed rail as a concept amongst some environmentalists.

    Firstly, of course HS2 should be part of an overall strategy – no sane person could deny that. And yes, the business case needs to be tested. But we have some experience of High Speed rail in this country, and our near neighbours have been building them for nearly 30 years, so its not new. The business case for HS2 is predicated on it costing more, and having lower growth figures than HS1. Thirdly naturally the public should have a chance to have their say – but that shouldnt mean that NIMBYs are allowed to de-rail (!) a project of this importance.

    But finally – are they really saying that High Speed rail would be so much better if it wasnt such a high speed? Why would anyone use the new line if its not going to be quicker than the existing one? The line isnt designed for the highest speeds imaginable – merely the same speed as most other new high speed lines are being built to now.

  7. Bob Price

    We here in the North East of England can only dream of a high speed rail link. If past experience is all we have to judge our hopes of being connected to this system then we are doomed. Just look at the motorway system, up to the North West via the M6, up to Leeds via the M1. Sunderland? Newcastle? Edinburgh? a patchwork of dual carriageways with a bit of motorway here and there. The A1 at Gateshead becomes a car park at rush hours. Until Grand Central Railways came along, Sunderland had no direct train service to London. If all these people don’t want it, we do, give it to us, let them use the motorway systems they already have and give the North East the chance to rebuild and strengthen its economy by linking us to Europe and beyond.

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