High Speed Train

I must say I’m quite surprised by the enthusiasm for greens opposing HS2, announced to get ahead today. People say the business model doesn’t imply it will cut CO2 and merely increases demand for travel, and that the money would be better spent on improving local services that communities rely on.  I can certainly think of a deserving local rail network desperate for investment – the South Wales Valley lines, which would give a huge boost to the chronically depressed regional economy if the lines were electrified and journey times reduced.

But this isn’t a zero sum game, if we are serious about investing to stimulate the economy, why can’t we build HS2 and pump billions into strengthening regional rail networks? This comes today along with news that the Treasury has sold bonds are negative interest and reports that Denmark, who recently elected a Government explicitly committed to increasing public spending, also has investors paying to give the Government money. All this will create jobs in sustainable industries and besides, if we expect people to switch to the train to cut emissions, how are we supposed to keep upgrading the system to serve both an adequate local service and inter-city trains? It sounds hugely expensive and painfully slow to me.

What I think I am seeing is a tendency to oppose a project because the current Government’s vision for it is apparently not in line with sustainable visions for the economy. People don’t believe it will cut CO2 emissions, but TGVs totally killed off domestic aviation in France, why wouldn’t it here, in a smaller country? People say that the Government has no plans to abolish the airport space freed up by high speed rail, but why shouldn’t that stop us happening in the future? People don’t believe it will ever reach beyond Birmingham, but is that a reason to oppose it, meaning if we actually want a high speed network in the future, we’ll be 15 years behind where we could be? I don’t really think that’s fair on Scotland for starters.

The point I’m making here is that we shouldn’t oppose potential progress on sustainable transport just because the people doing it don’t agree with us. Our job is to say “yes, we want high speed rail, but we want a different vision that respects the needs of a sustainable economy” not to oppose it because it’s not perfect. I’d rather have something to work with than holding the country back over issues that can be solved.