Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Why Speed 2?

Just occasionally, you get caught on the horns of a dilemma.  Being naturally fairly pro-rail, and pro-countryside, I'm a bit torn about what to make of High Speed Two.  Add in the fact that I live on the route (or at least very near to it), and you'll start to see why it's difficult.

First the problems - and they exist on both sides.  I wonder about the charge of Nimbyism, given the outstanding beauty of the Chilterns, but there's got to be at least a small dose of it around, because that would only be natural.  On the other hand, the Pro campaign haven't really handled their case all that well either.

The strongest argument that the Pros have in their arsenal is also the most provocative - but at the same time incredibly divisive.  Northern jobs are worth more than southern lawns.  I'm sorry, but I've got a lot of time for that if it really is that much of a zero sum.  I just haven't seen too much evidence that it is actually the case.  Having said that, saying that you're going to cut x minutes off the London-Birmingham time  isn't that strong. 

I get the impression that the only reason that argument was ever trotted out is that segment is all they can afford to build in phase 1.  HS2 has got nothing to do with reducing the London-Birmingham journey time, and everything to do with decreasing how long it takes to travel between say Leeds and London.  That's something that I can buy into, but it demands a level of vision and long term funding commitment that probably isn't there.

The other problem with HS2 is that it's essentially bipolar - it's great if you want to travel from A-Z but no good at all if you want to go to any of the places from B to Y.  All the compromise plans that suggest going via Heathrow, or ask "why can't we have a station for our town?" are heroically missing the point of High Speed rail.  You either totally go for the idea of mass rapid transit between cities, or you don't bother.

Of course, we did once have an alternative north south high speed rail link, the Great Central route out of St Pancras to Sheffield via Nottingham; but inevitably that was closed....

I do wonder though if there are other lines that we ought to be thinking about reopening first.  You could start with almost anything in the United Kingdom that runs east-west.  Given that the old Oxford-Cambridge line practically goes across the bottom of my garden I suppose I ought to be against it reopening, but, you know what? It would make a lot of sense, and potentially open up a new corridor for investment from Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Bedford.  Now, there's an idea.  At the same time, there's the Waverley route up in the borders and Oxford-Cheltenham via Witney - all useful lines that I'd feel happier about investing in putting back.

Quainton Road - should we put the services back here in Bucks first before worrying about HS2?

I'd like to support HS2, I'm just not sure that it makes sense at this time, and on the terms outlined by the current plan.  I'm keeping an open mind, but east-west is at least as important as north-south - it's just that we don't have the lobby power in the west...

No comments:

Post a Comment