It’s natural that opponents to HS2 are keen to make capital out of any argument they believe will erode the case for a new High Speed Rail network. However, many have been busy tweeting and blogging that investment would be better spent on roads or improving internet access.
Supporting investment in roads hardly sits well with the environmental case the opponents have sought to make. And, although technology has clearly made considerable advances in the last decade, it is not reducing the need to travel.
If this was the case why do rail passenger numbers show an increase of 6% per year during a recession? Increasing numbers of people are travelling, and failing to acknowledge and deal with this issue will harm our economy as well as our international reputation.
The most important factor for the West Midlands is the increase in capacity HS2 will bring. Major city traffic will transfer onto this new network freeing up capacity on existing lines for more local, regional and freight services. Our existing rail network is becoming increasingly congested. Rail demand continues to grow and Network Rail has forecast the West Coast Mainline will be full by the early 2020s between London and Birmingham. But actual demand is outstripping these forecasts so, if anything, these predictions already seem conservative.
Many HS2 opponents ignore the capacity issue entirely. Some try to deny there is a capacity problem. A few will argue that no development should take place whatsoever. Other critics of the scheme point to building more roads as if road congestion, parking, emissions and eight lanes of cars and lorries were not significant problems.
However, a group of HS2 opponents led by AHGAST’s Jerry Marshall has been keen to support Rail Package 2, or RP2 as it’s known, as a better option. They claim that for considerably less cost work could be done to provide increased capacity on the existing network. They have claimed that RP2 would provide anything between 138% and 211% increase in capacity at a fraction of the cost of HS2.
This simply isn’t true. What they don’t reveal is that any increase from RP2 figures is based on running longer trains throughout the day at times when there is far less demand. Put simply, they ignore the real test of capacity which is during peak times. Many of us cannot choose when we work and have set hours. Railways have always had to cope with peaks in demand and this is not going to change.
Perhaps the most telling and concerning aspect of RP2 is that it simply won’t provide the release of capacity for the increase in local, regional and freight services we need. An independent KPMG report reveals that bringing HS2 alone to our region would deliver 10,000 jobs and £600m to the local economy. But with local and regional improvements, bringing more services to Wolverhampton, Lichfield, Sandwell & Dudley, Walsall and many other stations, the economic benefit increases to £1.5bn and 22,000 jobs.
Capacity is critical, but because it can be difficult to understand and is not as attention-grabbing or emotive as a story about a threatened property, it is often overlooked or misrepresented.