HS2 rail line to go ahead


The Government has given approval to a new £32.7 billion high speed rail line, but environmental campaigners are split. Charlotte Reid has more.

The controversial high speed rail link between London and cities in the north of England has been given the go ahead by transport secretary Justine Greening.

She said in a written statement, “I have decided Britain should embark upon the most significant transport project since the building of the motorways by supporting the development and delivery of a new national high speed rail network”.

The first phase of the high speed rail line, which runs from London to Birmingham, will be in operation by 2026, with lines to Manchester and Leeds promised by 2032. The trains will be running at 250mph, meaning a journey from London to Birmingham will be halved to 49 minutes.

However, campaigners are annoyed that the rail line will be going through rural areas and the Chilterns, an area of outstanding natural beauty. This interactive map from The Guardian shows the route of the rail line and where there is opposition.

The proposals have undergone many changes since they were first introduced in 2010, even though the transport parliamentary committee gave support to the high speed rail link in November 2011.

Most significantly, 22.5 miles of the route will be covered by tunnelling. Another concession given was that the line will be sheltered by two million newly planted trees.

Campaigners put forward alternatives to Network Rail that the rail network will benefit from having longer trains and more services. But Network Rail said these proposals would not meet the forecasted demand on trains, and might make the existing network less reliable than it currently is.

The concern is there is no sustainable alternative.

Although rail commuters are feeling the pinch after a rise in ticket price, Network Rail is also expecting a rise in passengers.

One alternative to the train systems is people using their cars. But the current amount of cars on the road produces 22% of total carbon dioxide emissions. Would it be sustainable or environmental to put more cars on the road?

The government estimates that the high speed rail line could see nine million road journeys and 4.5 million plane journeys being made by train instead.

However, some argue that HS2 may only cut emissions marginally. All the good of getting people off the roads and out of planes could be undone by damaging the countryside.

Stephen Trotter, head of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, told the BBC that there are still concerns about whether HS2 will destroy woodland and other habitats.

Friends of the Earth’s director of policy and campaigns, Craig Bennet said, “High speed rail has a role to play in developing a greener, faster transport system”.

However, the current plans are not the answer, as he said it “won’t do enough to cut emissions overall – minister should prioritise spending on improving local train and bus services instead”.

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Photo: Paul Holloway.