HS2

stevensons rocketThis blog being tangentially one about tranport and more or less about the North I am probably obliged to have an opinion on HS2. I haven’t done anything on this because it is not really cycling related, I haven’t in all honesty got anything new to add to the debate, and of course principally I couldn’t be arsed but seeing as you’ve asked and seeing as I haven’t got any cycling pictures to post because I have been battling headwinds rather than photographically pootling this weekend there are one or two reasons that immediately spring to mind which would count against me coming out as a ‘pro’:

1. When HS2 is finished the northern terminus will still be quite some distance to the south of where I live so not terribly relevent to me personally.
2. By the time it is finished I will probably have no use for it anyway as I will be too old and poor to travel anywhere, so even less relevent to me personally.
3. HS2 will probably result in the trains I do use suffering a reduction in speed and frequency due to the operational requirements of HS2 and also the capital and running costs sucked from the rest of the network to build and run the new line.
4. Many years ago there was a promise of direct trains to the continent from the North via the planned channel tunnel. These services will still not materialise even when TGVs can travel to Leeds and it is unlikely the new line will even join onto the existing channel tunnel line and it makes me very sceptical of any promises made for any new project.
5. I live a bit nearer to Edinburgh than London so HS2 seems very much a South of England project like cross rail or the tunnel rail link and I can’t help the suspicion that London gets more out of this than the North.
6. HS2 looks like being another Concorde: a glamorous toy for the wealthy only made possible by the tax money of ordinary people who’ll never use it themselves and which may well turn out to be a technological dead end as Tony ‘man of the people’ Benn’s superwhizzo pointy airliners were.
7. I have an instinctive caution against imposing disruptive projects on people’s homes and communities be they wind turbines, open cast mines or railways. I know many of the southern objectors will happily be using HS1 to head off on their skiing holidays without any worry in their mind that this detracts from their moral authority on the subject of building fast new railways but something has to be pretty urgent to justify turfing people out of their homes by compulsory demolition or just by making it really crap to live there anymore and I am not sure if this is.
8. I also have an instinctive caution against putting all the transport eggs in one railway line shaped basket because if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to there is no plan B.
9. HS2 is a big government project and government doesn’t do big projects well. Government doesn’t do small projects well. Government can’t buy a can of coke from a vending machine without it being late, over budget and exploding in someone’s face when they open it.
10. It is not travel times between the large cities that is the problem, it is the time it takes to get between smaller centres which don’t have direct links, don’t have links which run early or late or at weekends, or don’t have any links at all, not even a bus never mind a train. HS2 is the answer to the wrong question.

I am not, however, an against either. This island is long and thin on a north south axis and it is still laboriously slow to get from one end to the other, or even from and to places which are nowhere near the ends and any amount of tinkering by adding a lane to this motorway or a track to that rail line won’t solve that. The problem needs some imagination. In a park in a town not far away are some of the original stone sleepers from the world’s first commercial powered rail service and folks in the North East perhaps still retain a belief in innovation and engineering that home counties florists and bank managers don’t have. We also have a need for a decent transport system, a need which well catered for home counties florists and bank managers don’t have and we have a railway heritage that home counties florists and bank managers don’t have. On top of that, despite perhaps what experience tells us, we maybe have more faith in the shared and communal than home counties florists and bank managers have.

So my view on HS2 is that the information available is not complete nor accurate enough to have a view so therefore I do not yet have an opinion that could be labelled ‘for’ or against’ and this means I have signally failed in my duty as a supposedly opionated blogger. I would go and throw myself under a train out of shame except there isn’t one for ages now so I will just have to learn to live with myself. For more stories of unfeasibly high speed travel I hope to return to pictures of hills what I have been riding my bike down soon.

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4 comments

  1. Rachel

    It sounds as though you are more against than for. I didn’t really delve into this debate when I was in the UK. We traveled everywhere by train when we were there. We didn’t have a car at all and I’d like to continue that tradition when we move back. But we thought the trains were excellent. Perhaps it’s all relative because in NZ, trains are pretty non-existent. So not only were there lots of trains in the UK, but they were frequent, comfortable, affordable and served great Yorkshire tea. We really had no complaints. Actually, that’s not true. I did have one complaint which is that there was never anywhere to store luggage. But aside from that, the trains were awesome. Our kids loved it too. There’s something so much nicer about train travel than car travel: you get to read a book or play with electronic gadgets, drink tea or play games and there’s even a bathroom so no need to pull over to a service station. So when I first heard about HS2, I thought it was unnecessary. Perhaps it is, but then perhaps it will be useful as well. I really can’t say. I am generally in favour of policies that promote public transport over automobiles and this is one of them, but I’d rather see more spent on cycleways, which I think give better bang for the buck.

    • northernbike

      Hi rachel, that is a certainly a different perspective on UK trains because we are usually moaning about them but sounds like they are better than over there. I like travelling by train too because you can work, chat, read, sleep, stare vacantly out of the window and having travelled on french TGV and the London-Paris/Brussels train which is basically the same thing am quite excited by the prospect of whizzing up and down the country at 300kmh in jet airliner style effortlessness but being british I can also find loads of reasons why it’s a really terrible idea and we should go back to horse drawn stage coaches that took days to travel around the country, not hours

  2. ragtimecyclist

    ‘The Island is long and thin on a north south axis’ is my new favourite way to describe the UK, and is how i will describe it when abroad in fuiture, thanks NB.

    (Beyond that, i really have no view on HS2, except to say that ‘HS2’ is an incredibly unimaginative name…surely something more creative might have caught the public’s imagination?)

    • northernbike

      It is very uninspiring isn’t it – you’d think they could take inspiration from the names of rail companies and engines from the steam age when trains were romantic and exciting, visit the museum at york or read some Betjemen or Auden or something – HS2 sounds like the name of a dull korean hatchback

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