High speed train at a station

Full disclosure: I love trains. I always have. I’m lucky enough to live close enough to HS1 to have been able to travel easily across the Channel. I once took my son in a carrier to meet family in Paris. I caught the first train in and the last train out. It was cheap, maybe less than £20, and we returned exhausted, having toured the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre. Even before that and like many others, I also spent a lot of my youth travelling around Europe by train. The double deckers; the restaurant cars; the incredible views. There was something a bit magical about being transported there. Cities separated by two sets of doors. Long before I found my home in the Green Party, I was choosing rail over road whenever I had the opportunity.

Despite all this love for rail though, I wasn’t sure how I felt about HS2. I’d seen some worrying things in the media and people I respected weren’t sure about it at all. Was it being done irresponsibly? It did seem astonishingly expensive. When I had talked to the railway workers on strike in Harrogate, they called HS2 a vanity project and wished that money was being spent on maintaining and upgrading the existing systems. It didn’t surprise me, sadly, to hear that they felt money was being stripped out of the railways. That seemed to be a running theme with our current government. Was it even possible to build new lines while maintaining the existing ones? I thought of railways in Europe and beyond and thought, yes, maybe.

So it was, that I went into the Greens4HS2 Panel with an open mind, but rather cautious and a little sceptical.

A Zoom call and an avalanche of facts later and I was convinced by their arguments. Emma and Adam spoke so passionately and convincingly about why we needed to support high speed rail. They acknowledged the potential damage to the environment but balanced it with the potential gain of fewer cars on the road. They gave me what I needed to make what was – I felt – an informed decision. Of course we were worried about the effect building HS2 might have on the environment. As responsible Greens who cared about more than shareholder dividends, or what the ‘market could take’, and as a party who included these landscapes in the tapestry of wealth, there is no doubt that if this was being built under a Green government, that we would be taking every possible care that it was being done in the least damaging way possible. They pointed out that much of HS2 had already been built. Campaigns against building it along certain routes were now redundant. It had happened. They were able to reassure me that the company building HS2 did care about the environment and had been taking steps to reduce the impact on local wildlife and ancient forest.

Learning that building HS2 in full would open up so much extra capacity in the north and in Wales was what clinched it for me. Effectively three new lines for the price of one. Suddenly, the price tag was becoming more reasonable. Segregated railways would also solve the ‘mixed traffic problem’, leading to faster and more reliable journeys on all lines, but all of these benefits would only come if it was built in full. I thought, if we’re going to do this costly and ambitious thing, then let’s do it properly and well so that it makes a real and tangible change that will improve people’s lives, not just leave something half-baked and stunted. The north deserves this investment too. It isn’t fair to just build fast lines in the South East. Money spent on infrastructure that will mean families have the opportunity to travel cheaply and with a vastly smaller carbon footprint, is money wisely spent.

In the 80s there was opposition here in Kent to HS1, but now it is one of the things we are most proud of. I know that the drivers like me, picking their children up from their grandparents and crawling home on the smoggy, dirty M2 – 6 lanes wide and sprawling across what was once a beautiful estuary – watch the sleek, slim Eurostar speed by with envy. Surrounded by green and almost silent, it exists in harmony with nature, not opposed to it. Will our grandchildren feel the same way about HS2? Will they be able to travel cheaply and easily to Europe and beyond? Will they be able to make that choice not to take a plane? I hope so.

Greens4HS2 have a motion coming to Spring Conference and we are asking the party to support fully funding Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2. This would reverse the Tory cuts to public transport investment in the north of England. If, like I was, you’re not sure how you feel about HS2, I would urge you to check out the Greens4HS2 website, or talk to a member at conference and to support our motion when it comes to a vote.

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Image credit: Les Chatfield – Creative Commons