HS 1 & 2 but where is 3, 4 & 5?
Since the days of Canals and then early trains we have directly linked speed and volume, moved with commerce, starting with the need to move coal to the mills and then products to the country and to export centres such as Bristol, Portsmouth, etc. In these early days of mass production the canals were privately funded. Then came the age of the train, huge hulking metal muscle, belching and billowing smoke as they pulled carriages of people and containers of manufactured goods or fresh from the ground ore. Diesel took the wind out of the steam engines and resigned them to childhood memories of a bye gone era, and to history museums. OK the odd one or two still run for the amusement of the public and fanatical followers but the era ended as huge diesel engines out muscled the ageing senior citizens of steam. To this day such engines, ever more powerful than the last, have continued to run on the lines that zigzag across our land linking every major city of the UK.
Certainly of late rail has been challenged as far more products are moved by road than by rail, some companies becoming household names, Eddie Stobarts for example. This hasn’t been helped by a decade of more and more people using rail and being charged more year on year, outstripping the rate of inflation. Campaigns now waged by passenger groups to get better quality, faster service and more seats, as certainly at rush-hour more stand than sit in dirty carriages. Even disability groups rage with indignant fury as there are still stations that wheelchair users cannot get off the train at; even in modern trains the lack of facilities or room for disabled people is just pathetic, and the lack of assistance at most stations makes using trains quite abysmal. Then you add in the recession to this mix, reduced staffing, tighter profit margins, lack of investment and the railways start to creek at the seams, seams that are falling apart whilst the big corporate owners of the rail franchises make millions.
So with this context in mind I was a little surprised that last year the Government announced that they were going to build a high speed (HS) rail link between London and Birmingham. At the current time the only high speed rail in the country is between London and the channel tunnel. The Government’s plan is to extend this by the 120 miles to Birmingham, which on face value seems to make some sense. Having lived in both cities there are strong business links between the two cities, and commuting between the two is a frequent occurrence for many a businessperson. But when I heard it was going to cost between £17 and £18 billion I was a bit gobsmacked, even with the figures they rolled out about it kick-starting the economy, creating 100’s of jobs, adding millions into the value of businesses by saving so much time commuting. Even an uninterested party to the announcement felt the figures were somewhat exaggerated, but if the Government felt this would kick start the economy out of the recession then so be it.
So I kept quiet by Highs Speed 1 as it has become known, watching as the landowners, many of who were represented by their Conservative MP’s, erupted into protests. The sleepy villages awoke with hellish fury, home owners met in groups to form campaigns against HS1 and already the Government became chest deep in legal challenges and law suits for reducing house prices along the proposed route. Now if you had any sense about you, one would get all these cases sorted and get HS1 underway from a construction point of view and prove the value it will be to the Country. After all, it is said that this will bust us free of recession. Anyone with any sense would have done it this way to silence the doubters and show what can be achieved through this vision of construction jobs, supply chain jobs, increasing commerce and turning the whole country around. I wasn’t sure how a Birmingham to London high speed link was going to benefit Wales, Scotland, Northern England but I was willing to be proved wrong.
As I have said, the Government is deep in the muddy battle grounds of the countryside either side of the proposed HS1 route, as campaigners make many a solicitor and barrister very rich over this. So in this climate what do the Government do, they propose High Speed 2; a high speed route from Birmingham to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds. Again the same arguments are rolled out as they were for HS1, in fact they are the exact same arguments and yes it will create thousands of jobs in construction and in suppliers to the construction industry. But the benefits have to be shown and not speculated about. When they then said the cost, that the bill to the tax payer was going to be £34 billion on top of the £17 Billion already committed, well I just felt it was so absurd. We starve the NHS of money, we cut back on vital services to our communities, more people are in poverty, benefits to the most needy are being stripped away, and the Government feel that in a time of austerity (as they have said time and time again) that to spend £53 billion is ok, ludicrous, total insanity. It won’t even be completed for 13 years and that’s as long as it isn’t held up by all the challenges in court, which it will be, so it will be a generation before any benefits are really felt by the country – if at all.
There are a few facts that really boil my catheter bag:
If you live above a line between Manchester and Leeds (over 20 million people) then it’s tough;
If you aren’t near a station that the rail link stops at you lose out too;
For goodness sake why not extend the line to Edinburgh via Middlesbrough and Newcastle (HS3) up the East coast; and to Glasgow via Carlisle (HS4) up the West coast. In this way the whole of England’s commercial centres would truly benefit, and then a spur from London to Cardiff and Swansea (HS5) could be thought of. If you are going to do it, and you are genuine about the benefits it will bring, then do it properly and connect the country for the benefit of all. The road link between Newcastle and Edinburgh is a nightmare so put in a high speed link, or is it the opinion of our London political masters that anyone or anywhere above Leeds is not worth the investment. Perhaps they feel their arguments in favour of HS1 & HS2 are wasted on the Northerners and the Scottish. By extending it as I propose then the employment created in the construction of connecting the country would be evenly spread, as would the supply chain be, and all could benefit from this infrastructure project.
I am not against spending the money, although it is a bitter pill to swallow when you have ATOS ripping the heart out of our welfare system and the NHS, Teachers and Police Services on their knees. But if you are going to do it then let the UK benefit and not selected sectors of England. Invest properly and for once unite both north and south in the benefits they all gain from this multi-billion pound infrastructure project, or don’t bother and spend the £53 billion rectifying the savage cuts (who is willing to bet that the final cost is more like a £100 billion!).
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