High Speed Rail in the UK

The UK Government has announced in recent years that it intends to build HS2 and in the past two weeks has announced it intends to build HS3. HS2 connects London and Birmingham in Phase One, and Manchester and Leeds in Phase Two. The project was initially planned as a possible alternative to a third runway at Heathrow Airport, although the Government now wants both HS2 and the third runway. HS2 is a brand new line, which is intended to increase capacity on the West Coast Main Line. How is this going to be achieved? There are only four stations in Phase One, compared to nine on the Birmingham to London stretch of the WCML. This means that more areas are served by the WCML than will be by HS2. To begin with, most peak-time trains on the WCML are not full, with an article from The Telegraph in December 2012 stating that there was only one train that had more passengers than seats (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/9731680/Passenger-numbers-blow-apart-case-for-HS2-train-line.html) and a blog from September 2013 proving that capacity is unlikely to be reached in the foreseeable future (http://www.theengineer.co.uk/opinion/viewpoint/why-we-dont-need-hs2/1017124.article). In fact, the WCML into London’s Euston station is the line with the fewest passengers compared to the other railway stations in London. Also, HS2 is going to involve demolishing hundreds of homes and businesses, including half of Camden Town, and is going to be going through Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. HS2 is going to destroy the best places in the UK in order to take possibly only a small percentage of people off the WCML. HS2 trains are also likely to run to Glasgow on the WCML and Edinburgh on the East Coast Main Line. The trains are not going to be tilting trains, so they will be able to run at 125 MPH on the ECML, but will be limited to 100 MPH on the WCML, further reducing capacity north of Birmingham. The stations between London and Birmingham will probably see a reduction in services if HS2 is built, but could see a further reduction if trains are running from Manchester to Glasgow using the non-tilting trains. At this point, the route for Phase Two has not been confirmed, so we can only discuss the routing of Phase One.

The last thing about HS2 is the cost. It is currently due to cost £50 billion to build the line and get the trains, etc. In the current economic climate, this is too much money for a railway line which is not going to benefit most of the population, especially when over 50% of the population does not support building HS2 (http://stophs2.org/news/12581-polling-shows-hs2-unpopular-eve-relaunch). It would, in my opinion, be better to reopen the Great Central Railway because it would serve a lot more people and a good amount of the infrastructure is still there.

However, I currently agree with HS3 in that, from what I can gather, it seems to be a proposal of an upgrade of the existing Manchester to Leeds TransPennine route. This may involve one or two new tunnels, but wouldn’t, in theory, involve demolishing many homes and businesses. HS3 was announced in Leeds on 27th October 2014, so is not news from this week, but HS2 seems to always be in the news, and HS3 fits in to the same category. Due to the details of HS3 not being known at this time, this is all I can write about HS3.

Overall, in my opinion, the UK does not need a high speed rail network. The country is too small and HS1 is underperforming if we look at how the reports indicated it should be performing at this point. Yes high speed rail is helping the Chinese and Japanese economies, but they are completely different countries and because it worked there does not mean it will work in the UK.

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