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What do we know about HS2 so far?

I've been struck by the amount of controversy which has been generated by HS2, the High Speed Rail link from London to the West Midlands, so, not knowing that much about it, I've decided to write a few passages about it on this blog in order to try and gather my thoughts and learn more about the main issues involved.
Rather than a straight A-B, the line stretches from London to Manchester with a branch extending from the main route to Leeds via the East Midlands. Apparently, there won't be any immediate calling points between London and the West Midlands apart from a spur to Birmingham, which immediately raises questions in my mind about what precisely is the business case for this project, as it seems to me that completely misses a lot of local business located between the two destinations.
In principle the project is supported by the three main political parties. The government's case is that it will provide additional capacity on the rail network to the Midlands and the North, despite the fact that the West Coast Main Line was upgraded as recently as 2008 and plans for longer trains and improved signalling on that route. A member of the HS2 Action Alliance has criticized the government's projections as well as the assessment methodology. In addition the HS2 proposals have been opposed by numerous local authorities along the route. The Green Party support High Speed Rail in principle if it is restricted to 190 mph which would enable it to use existing transport corridors, however the current proposals were opposed by the party at their Spring 2011 conference. The Wildlife Trusts have criticised the scheme because of the effect on 4 SSSI's and over 40 other types of nature site along the route.
The first phase of the project will involve the demoliton of over 400 houses including nine which are Grade II listed. David Lidington the MP for Aylesbury has raised concerns that the line could damage the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Colne Valley Regional Park on the outskirts of London and various other areas of Green Belt.
A report commissioned by the Department of Transport in 2007 found there were no significant carbon reductions obtained by building a line from London to Manchester and that in fact carbon emissions would be greater than if no new line was built at all. The High Speed Rail Command paper published in 2010 found that carbon emissions would be increased by 440,000 tonnes per year.

Additional Information:

High Speed Rail, The National Interest and the North South Divide

HS2 - A summary for MP's

Financial analysis of HS2 by Action Against HS2 Chiltern Routes

Stop HS2 Arguments:
Myth 1: HS2 is green
  • HS2 will increase carbon emissions, but the Government say the project is carbon neutral. We are committed to 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.
  • 400kph trains use 3 times the power that 200kph trains do.
  • Even HS2 Ltd don’t know how much landtake will be needed for HS2
  • The 72 metres ‘vegetation management’ width is wider than Wembley (69 metres).
  • HS2 will encourage extra journeys. It assumes that 22% of the projected passengers, almost 40,000 people per day, will only travel because HS2 is built.
  • HS2′s case ignores the environmental costs.
Myth 2: HS2 will deliver regional benefits
  • The benefits will mainly go to London. Three times as many passenger journeys will be towards London, not away from it, so redistribution will end up there.
  • The limited regional benefits will be sucked to the few stations.
Myth 3: HS2 is a sound investment returning over £2 for every £1 spent
  • It overestimates the value of time savings.
  • It originally assumed 133% background growth in demand. This is a huge increase in demand, and is double that of other reputable forecasts. When the new economic case was produced, HS2 Ltd simply extended the forecasting period.
  • It also assumed an additional 133% increase in demand due to HS2 itself. This is much more than the West Coast Main Line upgrade, which delivered a bigger service improvement.
  • It ignores competition from conventional rail. Failure to realistically assess the competition was a mistake made by HS1 and the Channel Tunnel.
  • It ignores the impact of new technologies, which are reducing demand for travel.
Myth 4: Only HS2 can solve our capacity issues
  • The DfT’s own alternative, Rail Package 2, delivers all the capacity requirements.
  • Rail Package 2 is designed to meet demand incrementally, has a superior rate of return, and costs just £2bn. Clearly better value for us all.
Myth 5: HS2 will greatly reduce domestic air travel
  • HS2 argues for a modal shift, based on unrealistic demand for domestic air travel. It assumes an increase of 178% by 2033, whilst today the domestic air travel market is in decline.
Myth 6: The UK lacks fast connectivity between our cities
  • Journey times between our major cities are faster than our European competitors. We already have an extensive fast rail network.
Could HS2 have used the route of the old Great Central Railway Instead?

North of the Chilterns the line would follow the main road past Aylesbury before making use of the largely preserved track-bed of the former Great Central railway until Brackley. There is at least one petition which advocates rebuilding the Great Central instead of building HS2:


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