On 11th March 2010, the outgoing Labour Government announced plans for a High Speed Rail (HS2) link from London Euston to Birmingham. It was reported then that it would cost £11bn, but that figure was 6 years out of date. On the same day you could have got information from the Department for Transport which put the cost at £17.4bn or from HS2 Ltd, which put it at £25.5bn, or 2.8% of our generational national debt (based on a total national debt estimate of £916.6bn).
Despite all the cuts we will face as a nation, and the fact the new Prime Minister has stated that "things are worse than we thought", the Coalition Government still want to go ahead with HS2 and even extend it to link with Heathrow and HS1, meaning it will cost even more than the current £160 million per mile.
The business case assumes three times the number of passengers carried by the West Coast Mainline (45,000 increasing to 146,000 per day), despite there has been no increase in long-distance train travel since 1995 and the only increase has been on discounted fares.
This also ignores the fact that in 15 years time when it is scheduled to be ready, people will need to travel for work less, as who knows what we will have in terms of internet connections and video conferencing.
When announcing the sale of HS1 in Kent, Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond said; "High Speed One is a national success story." This is despite the fact half the trains have been cut to stem the losses. HS1, like HS2, was meant to be great for business and was going to carry 21 million people per year. It has managed 7.5 million. HS1 is being sold for £1.5bn, about a quarter of the £5.8bn it cost to build.
Just to make sure people will use it, as in Kent, current services will be cut. Commuters from Coventry currently enjoy three London trains per hour. If HS2 goes ahead, the two express trains will be cut, meaning even if people go up to Birmingham International to use HS2, it will take them longer to reach their destination.
Supporters and politicians are quick to say HS2 will be good for the environment, however when you read the actual plans, you find out this is not the case. HS1 passengers are responsible for 35% more CO2 emissions than car passengers, but HS2 will go faster, so the CO2 emissions will be higher, but we don't know how much higher as there is no passenger train in the world that travels at the proposed 250mph to compare it with. It will also lead to more flights, not less, as Birmingham International Airport is being extended and it will be about 40 minutes on the train from Euston and now will be directly linked to Heathrow. Birmingham will provide Heathrows third runway.
The HS2 report admits that the plan may lead to an increase in CO2 emissions, but in those calculations they ignore the seven years of construction and roadworks that will mean and the fact that in some places a 75 metre (83 yard) wide strip of 'green stuff' will be turned to concrete, due to 25 metre 'no vegetation zones' on either side.
Yes, 75 metres! The pitch at Wembley is only 69 metres wide. The plans state that where the trains will travel at top speed, the tracks will have to be 25 metres to stop passing trains blowing each other other the rails, and there will have to be a 25 metre 'No vegetation zone' on either side.
HS2 will cut right through the heart of the countryside at a noise level of 95 decibels. The noise level at which sustained exposure could cause permanent hearing damage is 90-95dB. It's not planned to go next to motorways (existing transport corridors) as that would cost even more and to travel at 'high speed', the line has to be very straight.
This will create massive social damage to towns and villages along the line. While the government say it is 'good for business', HS1 and the M6 Toll were justified for the same reasons, but have not devilvered the promised benefits. All they have delivered is large losses. The business case takes no account of businesses which will be destroyed, and businesses will only get land value when it comes to compensation.
HS2 will of course lead to the filling in of greenbelts, as once they are blighted by the fact upto 40 trains per hour (1 per 90 seconds), a quarter of a mile long, going past at 250mph, creating 95dB, it's not going to be a green belt any more. There is also the chance of extensive development around the Birmingham International station as a result of this plan.
The thing is with HS2 is it sounds like a good idea, but when you look at the details, you find that most parts of the plans are bad, unjustified ideas. The main thing is that it is going to be a collosal waste of money that will help bankrupt the country even more than it is now.
Just think of what would not need to be cut if it wasn't for committing to at least 25.5 billion pounds on one train line, connecting two cities, when there are already two train lines doing the job.
The plan provides little benefit to the country and when you study the detail, it is evident that it will be environmentally damaging. It will reap untold damage to society and the environment and is simply an unaffordable luxury at this time. HS1 cost £5.8bn to build and now, after services have been cut because there is not enough demand, and it is up for sale at £1.5bn, just a quarter of its cost. It is a mistake which must be learned from.
There are many more things which will benefit the country more, and in these times of supposed austerity, other things should be prioritised instead.