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Is high speed rail really a green transport mode?

Rail minister Tom Harris' criticism of high speed rail's environmental credentials might seem like hypocrisy, when his own government is promoting huge airport expansion.

But it still points up a major issue.

How can rail maintain its green image, if high speed trains are consuming twice the energy of conventional ones, and if the railway is aiming to expand?
All of this adds up to greater energy use, and a growing carbon footprint.

High speed rail schemes such as Greengauge21's "High Speed Two" proposition have concentrated on the considerable economic benefits of a single route, either west or east coast. But the primary justification for high speed rail must lie in its ability to transform UK and near-Europe transport into a sustainable low-carbon
alternative.

A properly configured UK network, an Anglo-Scottish spine route with spurs to outlying conurbations, could bring most major cities within three hours of each other – and thus render domestic aviation superfluous.

It would offer direct links from UK cities to Europe, again replacing flights.

And the capacity released on the existing main line network would allow much freight to be taken off the roads.

These are real environmental gains, that become possible if we put aside the half-baked single route offerings of the transport planners, and build instead a balanced high speed network to sound railway and engineering principles.

Above all else, it needs vision.

COLIN ELLIFF (M), 20 Hartley Road, Harrogate, HG2 9DQ

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