The high-speed rail link HS2 has been on the cards for years now, but very little progress has been made. Well, little progress that has already cost £7.4 billion. But while land is being bought and people are being moved out of their homes to make way for the rail link, transport in the North and local trains across the country are suffering. Why are we aiming for a huge, costly project when our existing transport system requires major improvements?
By the end of this year the HS2 review panel will make a decision as to whether to continue with the £55.7 billion project. HS2’s original budget was £32.7 billion, which was then raised to £55.7 billion in 2015, and now leaked reports suggest it could cost up to £80 billion by the time it reaches Leeds.
Supporters of the project argue that it would be a waste of the money already spent if it were scrapped. While this is true, it is not a valid reason to continue the work and spend ten times as much money. But it’s not just financial costs; the environmental costs of HS2 are massive considering the number of trees and green spaces that will be destroyed, and the carbon emissions that will be produced in the process. These plans certainly do not correspond with the government’s declaration of a climate emergency. The high-speed rail link may reduce the number of people driving between major UK cities, but if we want to reduce the number of cars on the road, then an investment in local services would have a greater impact.
In the north of England, train services are notoriously shocking to the extent that even the train conductors have to make jokes about the rare occasion that a train is on time. Ancient Northern Rail trains screech as they pull into the station and look as if they have been stapled together; that’s if a train even arrives, as a lot of the time they are cancelled without explanation. Yet still, prices go up and up each year.
Increasing the number of local services would help those unable to drive, especially the elderly and disabled, or those with less money to visit friends and relatives. This is where the arguments in favour of HS2 are flawed because the rail link only reduces journey times for people travelling between major cities. But what about residents of smaller towns who currently have no public transport services that allow them to commute to work or visit relatives? Even if there are public transport routes available, a journey that takes half an hour to drive could take two hours on various buses and trains, making the journey unaffordable for lots of people.
Right now, high-speed rail is not the priority. Journeys between major cities are already possible, so the government must direct its spending towards areas in need of more frequent train services, new trains, bigger stations, and more connections. If we truly want to improve the UK’s transport, we must start in the North.