The rail.co.uk High Speed 2 #railchat on the evening of February 15 proved that the proposed railway line is an extremely divisive subject.
The debate was a passionate affair and raged between those that wanted to protect the environment at all costs and those that were in favour of building the line who challenged the environmentalist’s credentials. Therefore, we thought it would be helpful to give a little more detail here on the topics raised.
It is very apparent that there are few people who are neutral on the subject and some of the #railchat participants made claims that when challenged, were not answered in detail.
A mixture of ‘statistics’ were offered covering various aspects of the subject, but some were old enough to be considered past their ‘sell-by’ date given the pace of technology progress. Many facts offered could not verified by rail.co.uk within the time constraints of the debate.
It was suggested that the former Great Central Railway trackbed should have been used as the route because the line was built to European Loading Gauge. This view is challenged in several key areas. Much of the route has been sold off and developed. Also the height and crucially the width of Continental locomotives and rolling stock means that existing structure clearances at Loughborough for example demonstrate that the line was not engineered to allow European loading gauge trains to operate.
Continental overall locomotive widths are up to 18 inches wider than the UK loading gauge which means stepping distances at platforms would have been compromised if the GCR gauge view was correct.
But, with engineering feats carried out in recent years, none of this would be impossible to rectify if the money is available!
It was also claimed that the line would create a permanent environmental scar along its route, but the evidence from HS1 through Kent, is contrary to this a decade after construction. The project planted millions of trees and created a linear green corridor.
Others suggested that wildlife runs would be curtailed by the line. Legislation dictates that this is investigated and minimised after copious environmental studies have been undertaken to ensure wildlife is disturbed as little as possible.
Farmers for example will be provided with access under the line so will not be inconvenienced except during construction. The revised route announced last month included longer and more tunnels and sound barriers to protect neighbours.
The use of Heathrow Airport was raised in conjunction within an integrated transport system as was that the Government was considering an interchange station at Calvert where HS2 crosses the East-West Rail Link.
It was noted that although a Eurostar train had visited Heathrow Airport in October 1998 as a test which although successful, did not result in these trains running there. But this proved the point that it was possible and HS2 will also link with Crossrail at Old Oak Common providing links across London and to Heathrow.
The effect of HS2 on other routes was also well aired with suggestions that existing capacity will be exhausted in the medium term. This will be despite on the West Coast Main Line, trains and platforms being lengthened to cope with demand. Some suggested this was rising at 6% per annum despite train travel being perceived as expensive. The freight argument was also visited with the new line freeing up paths on existing north-south routes which in turn reduces road traffic and carbon emissions.
All that is known is that Franchise forecasts consistently show continuously increasing passenger numbers so the ‘do nothing’ option is not on the agenda.
Ticket prices were also discussed and the subject of having cheap walk-on fares raised. But as with flying and coach travel, the further ahead you can book, it is a fact that cheaper travel can be obtained.
In fact, for passengers whose journey is not time critical, cheap fares can be had on slower services at little notice, which often have capacity away from peak times.
So far as the UK economy is concerned, the various Chambers of Commerce along the route are lobbying to be served by a station in their area as they see a huge economic benefit if served by the line.
There is no doubt that the economy will benefit while the line is being constructed. The Government and Chambers of Commerce both suggest that it will continue to benefit the economy once trains are running.
The business case argument is based on assumptions that some regard as optimistic and flawed while others suggest the whole of the UK will benefit from the investment.
Whoever is right, we will have to wait some time to see who was right and the debate will doubtless continue without loss of passion! Rail.co.uk will be part of it.
The discussion has been collated and can be viewed here!
Thanks again for all who joined in, we hope you enjoyed it!
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