Why the M40 alternative route isn’t the solution for HS2

M4O route is no alternative to HS2

Some would prefer an M40 route for HS2

Some would prefer an M40 route for HS2

Claims that the M40 offers a better alternative route than current HS2 proposals are hardly new, but the story was given coverage by the Daily Telegraph again last week and continues to surface on social media.

Many HS2 critics were keen to jump aboard this latest attack without, perhaps, giving adequate consideration to the implications.

HS2 Ltd’s response to the story was buried deep in the copy but made interesting reading:

“An M40 route would cost £3 billion more and affects more population centres, including Gerrard’s Cross, Beaconsfield, High Wycombe and Princes Risborough, which have a combined population in excess of 110,000 people,” a spokesman for HS2 said.

So the disruption would be moved elsewhere and affect a greater number of people, it seems.

Anyone reading the comments beneath this story can see that even the suggestion of a route elsewhere provokes instant opposition from those communities.

Much of the comments in the piece are justified by making a comparison between HS2 and HS1. However, they are very different railways as critics of HS2 often point out when it supports their argument to do so.

For example, HS2 critics have been keen to use recent economic criticism of HS1, but not so keen to link to the praise it has received in Kent or the fact 95% of spoil was recycled during its construction.

But it is fair to say they are different railways. HS2 will link millions of people across Britain and arrive in London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds.

And perhaps Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh too.

This latest M40 proposal, by Channel Tunnel engineer Mark Bostock, also allows for a station in Bicester.

HS2 and intermediate stops

This is another topic (intermediate stops) that divides HS2 critics. Many say it is wrong that HS2 does not stop between Birmingham and London.

However, when Stoke-on-Trent City Council and North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce expressed their desire for a stop they were criticised by HS2 opponents saying they would be ‘slowing down’ services to Manchester.

Sadly, and this is all too familiar, the demand for rail capacity fails to get a mention.

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8 Responses to Why the M40 alternative route isn’t the solution for HS2

  1. dpeilow says:

    There is also the issue of an M40 route not offering the same speeds and journey times as the more direct, former Great Central route – something that was pointed out by HS2 ltd early in the process. This will be necessary to offer competitive timings when HS2 eventually reaches Scotland.

    The importance of designing for this speed was highlighted again today, as Italy announed its new 400 km/h capable train, the Frecciarossa 1000.


    This train will enable Rome-Milan, roughly the equivalent of London-Edinburgh/Glasgow, in 2 hours and 20 minutes – a timing that in the UK would capture 85-90% of the domestic north-south rail-air market or around 30,000 pasengers a day.

    This is now possible today, in 2012 – not in 2026 when HS2 goes into service or even 2126 when it will still be in service. The critics would have us build something that is obsolete before leaving the drawing board.

  2. Chris Neville-Smith says:

    I actually think the parallel to M40 idea is a reasonable suggestion, and I think it would have done the HS2 case some good if ideas like this one had at least gone to consultation, to counter the perception that one route was always a done deal. The arguments I can see in favour of this route are:

    * This is standard practice on much of the continent (albeit usually areas where there tends to be more space available to fit in a railway line).
    * Much as the arguments of noise are being blown out of proportion, no-one can argue a High-Speed Line ruins the tranquillity of the countryside when there’s already a motorway next door.
    * It would open up the option of a London-Oxford high speed service, answering one of the criticisms that people along the HS2 route aren’t getting any benefit (although whether this would be sustainable with one double-track serving the whole of the north is another question).
    * The differences in time saving I’ve seen for all this different routes is about ten minutes here or there. That’s not a huge difference – and in any case, the most important issue is not journey time but capacity.
    * Although the line travels closer to more people, we can mitigate it further with sound barriers, whist it would be harder to sell the idea sound barriers in the middle of the countryside – they are far more obtrusive than the railway.
    * An extra £3bn over this amount of time for a project of national importance isn’t actually that much money.

    And to add one argument against:

    * The London-Leeds route is already a bit of a roundabout route and the time savings to the north-east aren’t anything spectacular. The M40 route would make it even more of a roundabout route.

    What I don’t buy is this idea that because some people prefer route B instead of route A, we should build neither route A nor route B. I’m quite happy for the government to consider the alternatives proposed by local people, but we’ve had a consultation and the alternative they wanted was an “up”-grade (note my use of inverted commas) that no WCML user could reasonably be expected to accept. If a consensus emerges that it’s better to spend more money are have a bit longer on journey times in order to keep transport links within existing corridors, I’d be happy to consider this, but I don’t see why the government should be expected to do one expensive consultation after another on an arbitrary list of alternatives from people who have no interest in using the line and every interest in delaying or stopping it.

    • Many of the people seeking to stop HS2 are doing so just because it is a monumental waste of their taxes, while most of the protesters along the proposed route couldn’t use the route even if they wanted to.

      • gohs2 says:

        The West Coast Main Line is increasingly overcrowded and passenger levels are rising at 6%pa. So stations such as MK, Rugby and others (as well as freight, growing at 10% pa) certainly can benefit from the released capacity HS2 delivers. Thanks for commenting.

      • Chris Neville-Smith says:

        Just out of curiosity, given that Crossrail costs about the same as phase 1 of HS2 and is also of little or no use to protesters along the HS2 route (or indeed anyone outside the south-east), as you putting any energy into opposing Crossrail?

        I’m just confused as to how £17bn for London – Birmingham/Lichfield is a waste of taxpeyers’ money but £15bn for Maidenhead – Shenfield/Abbey Wood isn’t.

      • gohs2 says:

        Hello Chris, Yes we’ve frequently made the point that opponents of HS2 do not draw attention to Crossrail’s business case or disruption. We don’t oppose Crossrail but believe opposition is inconsistent here. Stuart Andrew MP raised this issue in the media last year. Certainly Crossrail benefits the SE but HS2 provides for the regions

  3. padav01 says:

    It’s misleading to suggest that an M40 corridor base route hasn’t been considered – it has and it was rejected for the reasons provided by HS2 Ltd in their (albeit brief) response to this story. You already answered your own question about why this option was not offered out to consultation – it doesn’t take a genius to work out what the results of said exercise will be – more or less everyone living in area A will say that the route should be in area B and vice versa – that’s why the process of arriving at a preferred route has to be undertaken in such a clandestine manner – because if a potential route under consideration becomes public knowledge, almost overnight a campaign emerges urging every man and his dog living in a particular area to sign a petition, write to their MP, go on a sit-in protest, whatever. It’s a sad but undeniable fact that when it comes to transport infrastructure development in the UK, everyone likes the idea of the convenience such routes provide, just as long as they are nowhere near my back garden!

    This process will be repeated for phase 2 of HS1 – currently various options sit on the Minister’s desk and a process of consultation with relevant stakeholders is already underway – by stakeholders this means local councils and all MPs representing potentially affected areas and/or other large NGO bodies, such as Manchester Airport Group for example – you can also bet that all parties involved are sworn to absolute secrecy until a preferred pathway is identified for the two arms constituting the Y route of phase 2 because allowing such information into the public domain would effectively poison any possibilty of rational discussion of the respective merits of each option – in short World War III would break out in all of the areas potentially affected with individual campaign groups (populated by armchair spokesperson with miraculously acquired in depth knowledge of the highly technical fields of expertise involved) all extolling the virtues of routes nowhere near them yet just right for somewhere else

    It is this climate of rampant public paranoia that effectively shuts down any form of rational debate – that’s why everything appears to be done behind closed doors – it’s not a conspiracy – an largely ingorant and ill-informed public is their own worst enemy!

  4. Rufus McDufus. says:

    HS2 would probably not cost more on the M40 OK so its a bit longer but with technology, trains will get faster and who cares about the difference between 40 and 50 minutes if it saves the beauty of the Chilterns. The cost of less CPOs would liklely more than cover the cost of any more track. It would affect NO population centres that aren’t already affected by the M40. People who don’t want to live near rail will hardly have wanted to live near a motorway and in any rate, the motorway does not actually pass through those population centres and noise can be controlled past the towns by green tunnels, so the points presented in the above article are non arguments. The M40 has already cut through countryside and to suggest that the idea of cutting a separate swathe through pristine land to achieve the same route is lunacy in the extreme is an understatement. Any person thinking that is OK needs to look up the word efficiency in the dictionary. The lame arguments against the M40 route are a pathetic front for the greed of HS2Ltd. and the ineptitude of the British Government. Also, as originally planned, the route needs to really pass Heathrow. IN my opinion, it need to go Euston, Heathrow, M4, M25, M40, Oxford Bham M6 Sheffied Leeds.

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