Those of you with long memories may remember my piece a few months ago, weighing up the benefits and drawbacks of High Speed 2, the government’s new super-fast railway. Today, the coalition government announced the exact blueprints of the second leg of the line, taking the turbo-trains ‘oop north to Leeds and Manchester.
Like the outcry that met the first half of the planned route, reaction has been mixed, both from environmental groups and the public at large. But the predominant reaction (based on my super-scientific water cooler survey at work today) is ‘who cares?’ The northern stretch of the line won’t open until at least 2032 – long enough for many of today’s taxpayers and commuters to have reached retirement age.
One Way Ticket To Meadowhell
There’s also been an uproar that the route slaloms around some of the country’s biggest cities. I may be a bit bias (because I live there), but I’ve taken a particular fascination in the bizarre decision to site Sheffield’s high-speed stop at a shopping mall five miles from the city-centre.
Meadowhall, the mega-mall that’s revered and reviled in equal measure, will host a station between stops at Derby and Leeds. All very well for residents in the east of Sheffield, but I even heard it theorised on Radio 4 this morning that it might be slower to travel to London on the high-speed route – once you factor in transfer time to Meadowhall from the city.
Neither Here Nor There
The citizens of Derby and Nottingham aren’t exactly jumping for joy either. If the new railway is designed to encourage even more people to leave their cars at home, and to take the weight from Britain’s struggling inter-city network, why is the station for these two major cities in the middle of nowhere?
It’s telling about the government’s desperation to give the project the green light that Chancellor George Osborne has even allowed the line to run through his Cheshire constituency of Tatton. It’s been said that a major headache for the project has been Tory MPs fighting to have the route bypass their constituency, for fear of angering voters who oppose the plans.
Rich Man’s Toy
It seems like the project is designed entirely for business users. No doubt, new business parks will spring up in the industrial wasteland around Meadowhall and the middle-of-nowhere village of Tatton. It looks like the suits will speed up and down the country on their new toy, while us ordinary folk will have to cope with an ancient rail system that actually takes us where we want to go.
No wonder the former transport secretary called the railways a “rich man’s toy”. And it looks like High Speed 2 could be the most expensive toy in the toy-chest. High speed rail has real potential to improve public transport for ordinary users, and encourage them to abandon the motorways for the rails. But only if the obsession with courting the business user ends. Railways for the common man, that’s what I say!