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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