High speed rail HS2 critics missing the point – it’s not all about the money

High Speed Two Trains HS2

High Speed Two trains (HS2) is a must do project, despite the critics

The proposed ‘HS2’ high-speed British rail network has had a lot of press recently. While many see the huge potential of new super-fast routes linking London, the Midlands and the North, there have also been plenty of doubters.

HS2 is hoped to open in 2026, using 400-metre-long European style trains with up to 1,100 seats each. The trains will be able to reach sustained speeds of up to 225 mph. Current inter-city services run at 125 mph. The planned Y-shaped network will mean it will take less than an hour and a half to travel from London to Birmingham and three and a half hours from London to Edinburgh.

One of the main arguments in support of HS2 is its potential financial benefits, boosting jobs and developing regional economies. However, detractors doubt these expected financial, business and employment benefits. Some Conservative MPs and councillors in areas where the route would pass through have already opposed the project, and the Taxpayer’s Alliance says HS2 would bring minimal financial benefits.

A report by consultants Oxera also said that the economic benefits of High Speed 2 was also unclear. However, despite these criticisms, a group of 400 leading businessmen recently signed a letter strongly backing the new rail project, citing its potential economic benefits.
But putting aside the controversy over the economic matters, there are plenty of compelling arguments for High Speed 2.

Environmental benefits

While the High Speed 2 line will undoubtedly cut through some countryside areas, it has wider environmental benefits. Boosting eco friendly rail travel will reduce carbon emissions by switching passengers from polluting car journeys and short haul flights.

Reducing congestion

Britain’s motorways are already straining, and the High Speed 2 network will reduce pressure on the roads and reduce congestion for everyone.

Demand for rail is increasing

Demand for long distance rail travel, travel throughout the south east and freight is increasing, and unless new lines are developed, the existing network could buckle under the strain. Inter-city train travel has grown at 5% per year, more than doubling between 1994/5 and 2009/10, while the number of rail journeys in the south east have increased by 70% in the same period.

Many industry experts predict that this trend will continue, meaning investment in new rail infrastructure is the only way to meet this demand.

Competing with Europe and the rest of the world

High-speed rail is already common across Europe, including the TGV network in France, ICE in Germany, and the recently opened Thalys network linking France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Huge parts of Europe are already linked by high-speed rail, making rail a real alternative to short haul flights on the continent. Britain needs to step up to the challenge and develop its own high-speed network.

High-speed rail services were pioneered in Japan in the 1960s and there are now more than 12,000 kilometres of high-speed rail tracks across the world. All but three of the G20 countries are running, building or planning high-speed rail projects. China already has 2,609 miles of high-speed rail lines running, with a further 4,000 miles in construction.

China is also unveiling its new high-speed train, a 300 kmh-plus bullet train linking Beijing and Shanghai in 4 hours and 48 minutes, cutting journey times between the two cities by more than 5 hours.

Putting Britain into the 21st century

While Britain wasn’t the first country to introduce high-speed rail, we were the first country to spearhead the original 19th century rail revolution, so why aren’t we up there with the best of them in the 21st century? The benefits of the new high-speed rail link are clear, so let’s get behind it and get this eco-friendly, human-helping project firmly on track.

10 responses to “High speed rail HS2 critics missing the point – it’s not all about the money”

  1. Anonymous

    HS2 is not green and is opposed by a wide range of national groups. These organisations include: The Green Party, The Campaign to Protect Rural England, National Trust, Friends of the Earth,
    Greenpeace, Woodland Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, Countryside Alliance, Ramblers, Environmental Law Foundation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

    1. Green Abode

      Nettle001 Thanks for commenting on the site.

      Yes, we aware that many organisations are against HS2 in its current proposal, however, they are not all against the principle.

      Looking at the bigger picture and the future generations of the UK..are you saying that building more efficient and modern rail systems are less green..than our choking and congested road system? What’s the carbon neutral business case for our motorways..compared to any rail travel & HS2?

      BTW – we’re an independent web site..so whilst we are big supporters of the organisations you have mentioned..we have our own independent views.

      1. Anonymous

        There is nothing green about speed.  350km/h trains use 90% more fuel than 200km/h trains (ref: DfT. Delivering a Sustainable Railway.  July 2007)

        1. Green Abode

          Yes..we know what you mean, there’s nothing green about speed = flying. Same report from 2007 also says that high speed rail (in it’s current proposal) emits less than twice the CO2 of flying.

          In terms of rail technology and the report from 2007 (yes – 5 years old)..things have moved on in the rest of the world. Other countries are more keen to look forward and think about future generations.

          Alstom AGV (France) – built from 98% recyclable and resusable materials. Comparing carbon emissions through the use of electricity produced in France. Carbon emissions are 70 times less than flying and 52 times less than driving.

          Shinkansen (Japan) – uses the same energy at 300kmh. that the Pendolino does at 200kmh.

          Harking back to a report of 2007, does not take into account advances in technology.


          1. Cynic

            In February 2008 the first non-stop high speed trains ran
            between Madrid and Barcelona in brutal competition to take air
            passengers off this route, reducing the train journey time from 6 hours to just
            2 hours 38 minutes in brand new attractive trains. Three years on and Renfe the
            company owning this (and other) lines loses money. They charge Euro 117 one-way
            on this route; the airlines make a profit charging Euro 44 one-way, and it is
            still Europe’s busiest Air Route. There are lessons here for
            those who think the purpose of HS2 in the U.K. is to reduce domestic air

          2. Cynic

            In February 2008 the first non-stop high speed trains ran
            between Madrid and Barcelona in brutal competition to take air
            passengers off this route, reducing the train journey time from 6 hours to just
            2 hours 38 minutes in brand new attractive trains. Three years on and Renfe the
            company owning this (and other) lines loses money. They charge Euro 117 one-way
            on this route; the airlines make a profit charging Euro 44 one-way, and it is
            still Europe’s busiest Air Route. There are lessons here for
            those who think the purpose of HS2 in the U.K. is to reduce domestic air

  2. Keri

     I am absolutely shocked by the lack of basis for your comments about the sustainability and environmental impacts of HS2. It is as if you have fallen for all the propoganda from the DfT and ignored all the independent research.
    HS2 is an electricity guzzling mode of transport that will run on hundreds of miles of concrete and steel through ancient woodlands and countryside. It will have a devastating impact in terms of noise (also an environmental issue) on 100s of families and plenty of schools, something that is being seriously downplayed by the government.
    As for keeping up with Europe – they are building more motorway than us – will you recommend that too , just because someone else is – I doubt it!!
    Rail journeys will not significantly reduce air travel within the UK – the DfT only expect a modal shift of 6% from air. Journeys to Scotland by HS2 will still be slower than flying even if you factor in check in time etc.
    Even less green, they predict 70% of travellers will travel on journeys just because HS2 will exist.
    HS2 is not well linked to HS1 as it it is the wrong route to the wrong place e.g. Euston so won’t have a big impact on Europeans either. It is possible it will encourage expansion at Heathrow eventually though.
    Finally the demand is not at all as (over) stated by the government, there are so many empty seats every day, and virtually empty first class carriages. it is just peak hours there is crowding (and much eter first class carriages). With demographics changing as they are, there will be far fewer people of a travelling age (20-59) by the 2030s than you would imagine and with the government’s planned immigration policies, there could even be less than there are now.
    I did hear one pro-hs2 buffoon, stating that as there will be an aging population and elderly people like  to go on day trips by train we need HS2 to accommodate them. That is seriously one of the worst reasons for nding £32 billion I have ever heard.
    Flippant writing about such a massive project, that will devastate families, communities and possibly the country’s bank balance is irresponsible.

  3. Eturnbull

    I am shocked at the lack of understanding of HS2’s sustainability and environmental impact demonstrated here. This just sounds like regurgitation of the spin by many a politician and businessmen in the yes campaign. As environmentalists we cannot be hypnotised by this propaganda, and must stay alert when considering this type of project. You’ve quoted 400 businessmen (with vested interest) as authority on the environmental benefits – can i point out that amongst these people are airport industrialists who will expand number of long haul flights if HS2 is approved. Furthermore, if you are going to reference anyone in authority on this matter it would be the recently decomissioned (by Coalition Government – ‘Greenest government ever’!!) Sustainable Development Commission who said HS2 is not sustainable and a vanity project. Woodland Trust have confirmed HS2 is the biggest threat to woodlands in recent years and a bigger threat than the Government’s woodlands sell-off plan. Also Green Party said no to HS2!

  4. Yes To HS2

    Localist critics and I’m afraid some environmental groups are failing to see the bigger picture here. Critics often state that HS2 would only be carbon neutral, however HS2 would only be carbon neutral if electricity generation stayed the same is only based on a modest shift from road and air to rail. As electricity generation continues to become de-carbonised the figures for HS2 Co2 production will fall. And many believe that the government figures for modal shift are also conservative at best as fuel prices rise many more people will choose to take the train rather than fly or drive. 

    Government figures also fail to take into account the 3 regular freight paths per hour that will be released from the West Coast Main Line, this will mean that 36,000 tonnes of freight could be removed from UK roads in any 1 12 hour period. Critics have avoided all together that fact that HS2 will release freight paths from the WCML as they know this will have a big impact on CO2 figures. 

    HS2 is part of a long term strategy that goes far beyond anything that could be achieved by simply upgrading existing lines. HS2 is about a step change in the way people travel across the UK and eventually to Europe. With a connection to HS1 built into the first phase it is envisaged that direct trains could be offered from Birmingham to Paris from day 1 of operation.

    It is unfortunate that biased local anti HS2 groups have managed to mislead the public about all aspects of HS2 from it’s green credentials to the business case. But the government has to go ahead with the project with successive governments continuing the project until it reaches Scotland. 

  5. Go-HS2

    It is all too easy to criticise HS2 without having a clear grasp of the facts or providing alternatives. The first proposed phase of HS2 (London to Birmingham) will treble capacity between the UK’s major cities.
    Rail use continues to grow. Network Rail predicts the West Coast Main Line (WCML) will be running at full capacity by 2024 and the West Midlands Rail Network is facing a similar crunch as demand is expected to grow by 32% by 2019.
    Surely it is pleasing that more people are choosing to take the train rather than sitting nose-to-tail, one per car in traffic?
    HS2 brings time savings and jobs/investment, but critically for the West Midlands it brings freed-up capacity on existing lines which cannot cope with any more traffic. This is because Inter City traffic will transfer to HS2 clearing ‘pathways’ for local/regional services. Not only does this mean more space on the WCML, it also means more services for stations including Wolverhampton, Coventry, Stafford, Sandwell & Dudley, Walsall.
    Without HS2 there isn’t space to run these services and local and regional rail will likely be squeezed out for profitable long distance services. Surely environmental campaigners would not want this?
    Another key consideration is freight traffic. Freight will grow by 54% by 2030. This freight can use capacity freed up by HS2 and run on rail not roads.
    A lot of false information has been spread about HS2. For example the claims it’s ‘as wide as Wembley’ when in fact it’s 22m wide, not 70m wide like our national football pitch. And nothing like the width of a motorway.
    People want to travel in increasing numbers and if we do not provide a suitable national solution businesses and communities will suffer. 
    None of the groups opposing HS2 has been able to supply a realistic alternative to meet travel growth demands. It is easy to criticise problems and block ideas, but much harder to work on solutions.
    If we don’t do something about this then freight and passengers will be forced to use roads instead. There will be pressure to build more roads. Is that progress?