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Keep an open mind as the High Speed consultation ramps up

As High Speed Two chairman Sir Brian Briscoe emphatically reminds us this week, the current consultation into the controversial £32bn scheme must not be seen as “a propaganda exercise”.

Because vital though this project may appear in terms of national economic interest, there are some very powerful arguments and very powerful people lined up in opposition.

With the project now well into the very challenging process of presenting plans to the communities directly affected by the new railway, engineers and planners must retain an open mind.

The local meetings and debates along the route and the assessment of the representations submitted must therefore be seen as the opportunity to listen and to learn.

The consultation must not be a hoop-jumping exercise but part of the democratic process that will ensure the right decisions are made and that the potential impacts are properly understood and mitigated.

“There are some very powerful arguments and very powerful people lined up in opposition”

I believe that it will be. That said, the macro arguments driving the HS2 proposals are compelling. The construction of a new high speed rail network across the UK is critical to securing the nation’s future economic and social prosperity. High Speed Two should be considered as simply the start.

The UK rail network is a victim of its own recent success. The huge growth in passenger numbers across the whole network, but particularly on the West Coast Main Line, means that overcrowding has already reached unacceptable levels.

Speed is important but if the UK is serious about driving economic growth we must make the connections between our major cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh much better.
High Speed Two has, of course, found support from all three major political parties. This is a rare state of affairs and surely indicates that in principle at least, this new piece of infrastructure is a sound investment for the nation.

And while £32bn is indeed a large amount of money for a nation racked with debt and facing unprecedented public spending cuts, the investment in fact equates to only around £2bn a year from 2017 − by which time the economy should be in better nick.

But for all this undeniable national interest, professional engineers must not overlook the very real impact that this scheme will have on individuals and communities along the route. We must learn from their experience and from the experience of past infrastructure planning processes.

Failure to do so will let these people down, let democracy down and could even end up derailing this vital piece of infrastructure.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

Readers' comments (2)

  • Dear Sirs,
    Thameslink 2000 nears completion, Crossrail 1 is under construction, and Crossrails 2 & 3 are proposed. All these are projects that are aimed at rectifying a problem that was recognised a century ago created by terminating all railways to London on what was then the periphery of the capital. Terminal stations are inefficient from the passengers point of view and expensive from the operators point of view.

    So now that we are in the age of the high speed train and are planning to link Britain onto the European High Speed Rail Network we propose to have two London termini ten minutes walk apart and a single track bypass tunnel for through trains that visits neither main line stations and involves travelling over tracks used by frequent surburban and freight trains at a point where four tracks are reduced to two.

    If our aim is truly to be part of the European High Speed Railway Network and to eliminate short distance aircraft flights by superior rail based services then surely what is required is a through station most beneficially sited between Euston and St Pancras/Kings Cross and accessible from both. Then all trains from north of London heading for the Continent can connect into a major transport hub, and those terminating in London can serve Heathrow Airport and the three stations at Old Oak Common, central London and Stratford. Such an arrangement would give far greater operational flexibility than the present proposal. What is proposed at present looks suspiciously like a cheese paring solution to keep HS2 costs down so that an acceptable cost benefit ratio can be demonstrated. It may be the cheapest option in the short term but is likely to prove an expensive one in the longer term.

    This cheese paring policy is again demonstrated in Birmingham where the proposal is to terminate HS2 on the Curzon Street site, a ten minute walk from New Street Station. So much for integrated transport. The Curzon Street site is large enough to accommodate HS2 as a terminal or through station and all the present interchange facilities that occur at New Street in a modern and efficient station with room for expansion. Not only that but it is adjacent to Moor Street which also has potential room for expansion if required. Curzon Street could be developed into Birmingham’s Grand Junction Station providing HS2 links north and south and other rail links radiating in all directions.

    Mike Schumann MICE Retired

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  • The problem with High Speed Rail is that it just doesnt make sense; with around 60% of the UK population living in a corridor 250miles long from London to Preston it needs to serve everyone and needs at least three tracks in each direction. Highspeed, local and freight. Sometime in the not too distant future when we are denied oil we will need electric trains running on power generated from nuclear power stations as our main source of transport. HS 2 would be fine for a larger country such as France or Germany but in the UK makes no sense at all in the proposed form.

    Let us at least build for the future just once. No more Severn Bridges and other inadequate solutions.

    As for the protestors, they have no benefit if they cant get on it, of course they are going to object.

    The published arguments in support are unintelligible as the justification doesnt work so obfiscation is invariably the way forward. As yet another railway systems iganores the M25 we have yet again been offered a proposal that imagines Central London as the start and finish of all things.

    Our profession should start with getting the priciples right before diving into pointless detail

    Stephen Trowbridge MICE

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