Horrific spending 2? Hopeless speculation 2? The construction of HS2, the government’s second high speed railway, which is planned to link London with our beloved ‘Northern Powerhouse’, is underway. The tracks haven’t branched out from Euston yet but the cost is already somewhere between four and 10 billion pounds. This is in addition to the ever-rising cost predictions for the rest of the proposed track, which have ballooned from 36 billion to over 60 billion pounds.
The government bandy around the term ‘world’s most expensive railway system’ as if that is an honorable status, albeit something that is to be covered by the taxpayer. After all, never mind the fact that due to running over budget the ‘speed’ of High Speed 2 has been bumped down, and the number of trains per hour decreased. It will, however, bring prosperity to the North, they insist. I find that hard to believe; shaving half an hour off the trip to London isn’t going to reverse the near decade of cuts that have hit urban regions in Yorkshire harder than anywhere else. Besides, from a local perspective, the initially proposed Sheffield line isn’t even coming here anymore.
Another question – who is going to be able to afford this journey? A quick search shows me that if I want to travel to London and back from Sheffield tomorrow, the cheapest option is an £80 return ticket. That’s the ‘Super Off-Peak Return’. Super indeed; super expensive. This is the result of allowing two dozen private companies to run the trains in the UK. Would it not make more sense, for the North, the UK and the planet, to invest the remaining 60 billion pounds into renewable sources of energy, upgrading tracks and electrifying trains?
The train I get occasionally to visit my parents in Huddersfield is slow, old, leaky and often too full for people to sit. The railways are indeed crying out for improvements – but sensible, sustainable ones, and so there is no way I can endorse the blind capitalist venture of HS2.
And that’s just for starters. The proposed track will uproot hundreds of people from their family homes, force local businesses to move and destroy ancient wildlife habitats up and down the country. Plus, with wifi on many trains now, people who need to are working from Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham on their way to London already. With a projected completion date of 2050, local journeys will continue to suffer. Add to this the worrying images of private HS2 security guards abusing environmentalists in the Colne Valley and six figure salaries being creamed off by one in four HS2 workers and there seems to be no valid reason to go ahead with this seemingly doomed project.
Image: Albert Bridge