Why High Speed Two Isn’t the Way Forward for the North

While the government is pushing full steam ahead with its development of high speed two rail, creating a so called ‘northern power house’ there is clear evidence to see that high speed two would have irrevocable damage on the North, rather than the aim of improving the north’s economy.

The aim of high speed two is to build a new railway track in order to expand the UK’s current transport system and connect big cities such as London, Birmingham and Leeds. There will also be an east midlands hub station, close to Nottingham, with the aim of connecting the midlands to northern development. It is estimated to be able to carry over 300,000 passengers a day and its aim is to improve the economy of northern England by connecting businesses and decreasing travel times.

“One of key the issues with this project is that it only tends to help the interests of already well off business men”

Whilst this all sounds beneficial and the government hopes to have phase one of the project completed by 2028, arguably such a development is damaging as the resources that it requires takes away from funding to develop the existing rail infrastructure in cities such as Manchester.

Whilst many, such as former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg,  argue that high speed two will bridge the north-south divide in England and lower the economic gap between regions, one of key the issues with this project is that it only tends to help the interests of already well off business men rather than the ordinary population as it eases travel to London rather than bringing many real incentives to invest in the north.

On top of this, the delay in developing high speed two (partly due to the government’s focus on other issues such as Brexit) has meant that businesses and the public feel increased uncertainty and frustration over the future of rail services. Indeed, more severe disruption is caused by the demolition of some homes to make way for a railway track that seems to have no clear end date for construction.

“It is crucial that the government recognises these concerns”

Whilst the first phase of the railway was due to be completed by the end of 2026, the government’s inactivity has meant that the north is facing an even longer wait for any development. The railway is now being expected to open between London and Birmingham between 2028 and 2031, draining further resources. This is of great detriment to the north’s economy, as enough money has already been wasted on a project which seems to drag on for many more years to come.

“High speed to the capital simply isn’t the priority here”

Whilst the official price tag for HS2 was set at around £56bn in the 2015 budget, government estimates now predicted that the project cost has almost doubled, rising to £106bn. This makes many taxpayers question the value of the project as they continued to witness slow, delayed train services with little improvement in site. One of the key selling points of HS2 has also been its great speed which exceeds current capabilities, making travel increasingly attractive. However, this is starting to fall apart as current reviews of the project see the government looking at cutting the speed of trains in order to lower costs, thereby defeating the whole aim of the rail expansion.

It is crucial that the government recognises these concerns, and rather than just push ahead with the project, conducts more of a substantial review to look at re-shifting costs to services that are far more vital for rail travel. So, rather than billions being launched at high speed travel to London, what is crucial for cities such as Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester is that they have modern, larger trains that are fit for purpose as well as trains that are reliably on time rather than the multiple delays that commuters regularly experience.

Being from Leeds and having commuted several times by train, I know just how draining these train services can be for the public when so much is spent on train tickets, but the same service isn’t delivered back. Therefore high speed to the capital simply isn’t the priority here. There are already some fast paced trains going to London but what really matters is customer experience on trains.

Certainly, Northern rail’s recent refurbishment and the expansion of Leeds station has come some way but there is still a long way to go in order to develop this so called ‘northern powerhouse’. Once our current trains are modernised, the north will be more attractive; this doesn’t have to be achieved through new ‘high speed’ rail.

Lauren McGaun


Featured image courtesy of Apionid via Flickr. Image licence found here. No changes were made to the image. 

Main images courtesy of Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors (licence) and Number 10 (licence) via Flickr. No changes were made to the images.

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