Thursday, October 23, 2014
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HS2: Phase one of high-speed rail line gets go-ahead

A controversial new high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham has been given the go-ahead by government. This first phase of High Speed Two (HS2) could be running by 2026, later extending to northern England.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening has announced extra tunnelling along the 90-mile (140km) first phase in response to environmental concerns.

Opponents also dispute government claims HS2 will deliver benefits worth up to £47bn, at costs of about £33bn.

The first phase of the project would cut London-Birmingham journey times, on 225mph trains, to 49 minutes, Ms Greening said.

This would be followed by a second phase of Y-shaped track reaching Manchester and Leeds by about 2033.

Connections to existing lines should then cut journey times between London, and Edinburgh and Glasgow, to three-and-a-half hours.

Ms Greening called the line "the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways".

"By following in the footsteps of the 19th Century railway pioneers, the government is signalling its commitment to providing 21st Century infrastructure and connections - laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable economic growth," she said.

The government estimates that the project could eventually result in 9 million road journeys and 4.5 million journeys by plane instead being taken by train every year.

"HS2 is therefore an important part of transport's low-carbon future," Ms Greening said.

There had been almost 55,000 responses to the consultation process on the project, which clearly "generates strong feelings, both in favour and against the scheme", the minister said.

She pledged a commitment to "developing a network with the lowest feasible impacts on local communities and the natural environment".

"I have been mindful that we must safeguard the natural environment as far as possible, both for the benefit of those enjoying our beautiful countryside today and for future generations."

Revisions to the route had halved the number of homes at risk, as well as reducing by a third the number due to experience increased noise, she said.

Changes to the plans, Ms Greening said, also meant that "more than half the route will now be mitigated by tunnel or cutting", including:

The Department for Transport said that 22.5 miles of the first phase would now be enclosed in tunnels or green tunnels - up from 14.5 miles for the route that went to consultation - and a further 56.5 miles of cuttings would significantly reduce "visual and noise impact".

Protest groups formed to oppose the scheme say the planned route crosses an area of outstanding natural beauty and it will damage the environment.

Opponents have also challenged the government's economic argument, suggesting the costs will be greater while the economic benefits will be lower than forecast, and that the business case for HS2 is based on an overly-optimistic prediction of growth in demand for long-distance train travel.

"There is no business case, no environmental case and there is no money to pay for it," said Stop HS2 campaign co-ordinator Joe Rukin.

The process for deciding on the London-Birmingham part of HS2 has been too narrow and people feel left out”

End Quote Stephen Joseph Chief executive, Campaign for Better Transport

"It's a white elephant of monumental proportions and you could deliver more benefits to more people more quickly for less money by investing in the current rail infrastructure."

Craig Bennett, director of policy and campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said: "We need to revolutionise travel away from roads and planes, but pumping £32bn into high-speed travel for the wealthy few while ordinary commuters suffer is not the answer.

"High-speed rail has a role to play in developing a greener, faster transport system, but current plans won't do enough to cut emissions overall - ministers should prioritise spending on improving local train and bus services instead."

However, the plan would be welcomed by "businesses up and down the country", said John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.

"Britain cannot continue to 'make do and mend' when it comes to its substandard infrastructure. Fundamentally, our global competitiveness is at stake," he said.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "We're pleased to see the government investing in rail, rather than roads and aviation, and acting on some of the local environmental concerns surrounding HS2."

But he went on: "The process for deciding on the London-Birmingham part of HS2 has been too narrow and people feel left out.

"In consulting on the lines north of Birmingham, the government needs to involve people earlier with greater discussion of alternative options, including ways rail investment can support low-carbon growth in the communities served, and also how any new lines will integrate with existing networks and improve local as well as long-distance transport."—Zodiak Online


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