There are many troubling aspects of the High Speed Rail 2 proposal, now the subject of a public consultation. Hundreds of thousands of people oppose it and many are deeply saddened and angered.

This project would cause cruel disruption to lives, the loss of much-needed fertile land and a huge overall environmental impact due to the mining and processing of the materials needed for the rolling stock and infrastructure [road, rail and 12 miles of tunnel and 138 bridges with viaducts up to 2.5 miles long].

They might be reassured by the Department for Trade’s report, High Speed Rail 2010, which asserts:

Government is mindful of its responsibilities to protect the natural environment, including important landscapes and biodiversity, as well as to limit harmful impacts on local communities, such as noise and air pollution, in taking any future decisions on investment in transport. 

Professional opposition

Many members of the public have expressed their opposition giving a range of grounds. We set out information from people professionally qualified to speak on this subject with authority.

High cost for low return is one of several adverse criticisms made in a report written by Chris Stokes who has worked as a Government and management consultant and held a remarkable range of senior posts in the rail industry. His conclusions:

  • HS2 Ltd only projects £2 billion of lifetime “agglomeration benefits” and the evidence for those benefits is weak.
  • HS2 will never produce a financial return. The value of the net operating profit once it has been built only covers 42 per cent of the capital costs over a 60 year project life.

The revolving door:

Rail News draws attention to one instance of corporate/political interaction, with lobbying by vested interests, which – though common – is at best disgracefully undemocratic. We learn from its article that in February, Sir David Rowlands – permanent secretary at the Department for Transport and chairman of the government’s High Speed Two rail development company – passed through the now infamous revolving door to become non-executive chairman of rolling stock leasing company Angel, which owns and maintains more than 4,400 passenger and freight rail vehicles in Britain.  This followed reported government blocks on his attempts to join the Boards of British Airports Authority and Bechtel [involved in Crossrail which will link with HS2].

Expensive, inconvenient and uncomfortable: among problems with High Speed 1, reported by the London transport correspondent of the Evening Standard, was Southeastern’s halving the length of six of its trains because not enough people are using the services following complaints they are too expensive and uncomfortable. The fares cost a third more than those of conventional trains. The operator says there is excess capacity and is reducing the number of carriages on three morning and three evening trains. Commuters have complained the trains only take them to St Pancras and they then must cram on to “normal” Victoria or Cannon Street-bound services, which have been reduced to accommodate the Javelin trains.

Economic benefits, regional regenerational impacts

Warwick University’s website led to the Wall Street Journal which published the views of Chris Stokes, with a paragraph citing Professor Mike Geddes of Warwick Business School and other noted academics, who presented evidence to Parliament that any regeneration benefits would be small and hard to establish. Geddes also quoted a report from Imperial College which states any regional regenerational impacts would be ‘very small indeed’ and stated that “If you want to regenerate the north, HS2 is exactly the opposite of what you should do, as all the evidence suggests that closer links to London will only benefit London.”

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK, CILT(UK), the independent professional body for individuals associated with logistics, supply chains and all transport throughout their careers, advertised  the ‘Stop HS2’  February national convention at which another expert, with a fine record of transport-related work, spoke.

Professor John Whitelegg – currently visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute – said:

“The proposed HS2 trains would burn 50% more energy mile-for-mile than the Eurostar . . . HS2 would produce more than twice the emissions of an intercity train.”

The high speed line will not cut carbon emissions

Hugh Jaeger, after graduating, worked for London Underground 1985-97. In his report, High speed rail and its environmental cost, he cites a 2007 report commissioned by the DfT, which concluded that building and operating a high speed railway between London and Manchester would have such a large carbon footprint that the projected energy savings from potential switches from road or domestic air travel would take at least 60 years to offset the damage.

In the Financial Times, there was a better solution offered by Gerald Holtham: managing partner of Cadwyn Capital LLP, visiting professor at Cardiff Business School, where he is co-director of the Investment Management Research Unit (IMRU):

“Rather than blast an entirely new line through the Chilterns, why does the government not upgrade one of the old lines to be the new high-speed link, while using the other in the meantime? Victorian and Edwardian engineers covered Britain with railway lines, many of which are closed or under-used. It seems perversely expensive to open a new line rather than to upgrade and revitalise an existing one.”


28 Mar 2011 – 18:30: Birmingham Friends of the Earth and Sustainability West Midlands Debate “High Speed Rail: Creating Sustainable Transport and Jobs?” Birmingham City Council House Victoria Square Birmingham, WMD B1 1BB

Guest speakers:

Christian Wolmar, writer and broadcaster

Mike Geddes, Professor

Jim Steer, director of Greengauge21

Martin Dyer, vice-chair of the West MIdlands Business Transport Group.

Chair: Adrian Goldberg, BBC WM and Radio 5 Presenter.