HS2 – Capacity, capacity, capacity
The case for HS2 in the West Midlands can be summed up in one simple word: capacity.
Passenger growth is running at 6 per cent per annum, despite the recession and much-repeated claims that technology would replace the need to travel.
And it isn’t just about growth in the south east. In the West Midlands passenger journeys have almost doubled in the last decade and rail’s share of peak-time travel into Birmingham has grown from 17 to 27 per cent.
In January Network Rail published a report which concluded we’re going to face some very difficult choices about which stations are served and which are not if we don’t build HS2.
Put simply, we don’t have the capacity on our existing lines and communities are going to miss out as cuts have to be made up and down the country favouring more lucrative long distance routes.
HS2 opponents have labelled this as scaremongering. It isn’t. This isn’t anything new. Services were cut at stations along the West Coast Main Line in 2008 to make room for faster, direct services.
For environmental as well as business reasons it is obvious why we must protect our local, regional and freight services.
Services in Staffordshire/Warwickshire
Network Rail concludes that local and regional services will be lost in Staffordshire and Warwickshire even if we adopt the alternative scheme promoted by HS2 opponents 51M.
Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise to see capacity missing from opponents’ arguments as well as those trumpeted recently in sections of the media.
After all, we spent £9bn upgrading the West Coast Main Line a few years back and it hasn’t solved the problem.
Much is hidden from view with these suggested alternatives. What about provision for freight for example? Why is there no provision for growth between Coventry and Birmingham?
HS2 alternatives are not what they seem
The alternatives are not always what they seem.
How many people realise the 51M alternative scheme endorses building 14 miles of new line through Staffordshire at a cost of £1.23bn to deliver just one more train per hour from Manchester?
As Lord Adonis said, when referring to such schemes, ‘patch and mend’ simply won’t do the job. We’ve had enough of that already.
HS2 brings great opportunities for our cities and regions. We will have fast, direct links between major UK and European cities.
A new high speed rail network will also release capacity on our existing lines for increased local, regional and freight services.
Work has already been taking place in UK cities to understand how our regional communities can benefit from these extra services.
HS2 releases capacity for West Midlands services
In the West Midlands regional transport authority Centro has produced a timetable detailing how Wolverhampton, Walsall, Coventry and other communities can benefit from new services to Birmingham Airport, for example.
Too much focus has been on London, perhaps inevitably as our one megacity, and journey times have been derided as ‘shaving a few minutes’ or commuters have been urged to ‘get out of bed earlier’ by opponents.
This is nonsense. Not only does it ignore the capacity needs mentioned previously it fails to recognise that the time savings are tremendous.
Our regions have the opportunity to work together in new ways, opening up markets and development opportunities.
Birmingham to Leeds currently takes two hours. This would be slashed to 57 minutes with HS2. Birmingham to Manchester would be halved from around 90 minutes to 41 minutes.
With these time savings it is possible for businesses to relocate and for our regions to become much more competitive, relieving the over-heated south east.
HS2 has cross party support
This is why HS2 has cross-party support and the support of businesses up and down the land.
This is an opportunity to build a rail network for many generations to come, but it will take guts, determination and strong political will to see it through.
It is only right that HS2 is held up to scrutiny, but the opinions of a vocal minority in the south should not be allowed to drown out the many, many people set to benefit from HS2 across the UK.