Monday, 28 January 2013

HS2 or H2S?

H2S, hydrogen sulphide, stinks as opposed to HS2, the high speed rail scheme, which may not stink  depending on your view. Arguments for the scheme include the need for strong infrastructure to support a strong economy in which wealth will spread to the north. There will be environmental benefits because travellers will use the train rather than take a plane. On the other hand there will be an impact on the environment and on local communities as building takes place and there may be cheaper and better alternatives.

I am writing this blog because of a quote from a supporter of HS2, Pete Waterman "This makes London and Manchester so close that you could commute every day." I have generally thought of one hour as my commuting limit. Anything more than an hour takes out a large part of the day and the shorter the journey then the better it is. So this would not be an option for me.

The saving in time that will be achieved  to get from Manchester to London will not be shaved, it will be almost cut in two from 2 hours 8 minutes to 1 hour 8 minutes and as technological achievement goes this is significant. On the other hand this is the best percentage improvement of all the stations involved. It may not be quite as enticing to travel from Edinburgh where commuting times will change from 4 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 39 minutes.

Let's stay with Manchester. Is it really that important to cut the travelling time? It only takes a couple of hours anyway. Are people really going to commute? The sort of person involved would live in the leafy suburbs of Manchester and would probably not work near Euston. Even if you just add 30 minutes in Manchester and in London (a conservative estimate) we are still talking about more than four hours travelling per day. It is difficult to agree with Pete. Would you commute?

A high speed train, by definition, cannot stop many times. which means the main benefit goes to those who live close to those few stations. As Manchester Airport is on this small list then maybe this will be a significant boost for the airport which would be able to serve London. This lends support to the criticism that HS2 is London-centric.

If this scheme goes through then maybe the environmental benefits will not be great because at the very centre of this debate is whether we should be looking for unbridled economic growth. Does it really matter if it takes a little longer to get across our small country? There are some who think we have no option, we have to have it. These people have not read Schumacher's Small is Beautiful.

It is a route for the rich. It is not a route for commuters, even rich ones. What is the point of going to great expense to save an hour and then find that journeys within London take over an hour? I am sensing a bit of a stink with HS2.

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