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High-Speed-Rail

BUT WILL IT LEAD TO MORE MOTORWAY TOLL ROADS?

There are no real surprises in the details of the second phase of the Government’s preferred route of their £32bn HS2 high-speed rail network, going north from Birmingham, recently unveiled by the government via David Cameron sat on a moving train - inside it rather than on the roof.

Travelling north from Birmingham there are two branches of the line, with new stations being created at Toton near Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Manchester Airport.

Obviously aiming to link the north and south of the UK with high-speed trains, it should alleviate the traffic on the motorways if all goes to plan – but that is not a given.

Phase One's London-Birmingham link has come up against considerable opposition, and Phase Two will be no different, Critics are already saying that countryside will be ripped apart with HS2 cutting through picturesque countryside, 18 councils along the route saying that taxpayers cannot afford the line, ecological disaster with greenhouse gases being increased and that the economic benefits that the rail links will provide have been massively overestimated. As they suggest, maybe there are far better ways of spending £33bn to stimulate growth?

But unsurprisingly this isn’t something that Chancellor George Osborne agrees with, despite the fact that Tatton constituency in Cheshire is amongst many places that Phase Two will pass through.

He said: "If our predecessors hadn't decided to build the railways in the Victorian times, or the motorways in the middle part of the 20th Century, then we wouldn't have those things today. You have got to commit to these projects even though they take many years."

According to the Department for Transport, with HS2 Phase Two in place, journey times between Birmingham and Manchester would be halved to around 41 minutes, and between London and Manchester to one hour and eight minutes, travelling at speeds of up to 250mph.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was quick to point out that speed was not necessarily of the essence: "It's not just about journey times, it is also about capacity. We are finding the railways are overcrowded. We've seen massive growth in rail passenger numbers, so this is taking HS2 so it serves the north."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "We can't keep turning a blind eye to the north-south divide in our economy. That is what this high-speed project is all about."

So, the Government think that faster trains will mean more trains will mean less overcrowding will mean happier commuters will mean less traffic on the road will mean happier drivers will mean a better economy will mean…possible re-election maybe?

Out there in Opposition land there are more than 70 groups that oppose HS2. One such group is the cunningly titled StopHS2 which argues that the project is "fundamentally flawed", saying that the “majority projections do not take into account competition from conventional rail”.

StopHS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: "Fifty-five percent of the economic benefits are based on the cash value of time. No-one works on trains and every business user is worth £70,000 a year - it's basically a train for the rich that everyone else is not only going to have to pay for the construction of but also have to subsidise throughout its lifetime as well."

But the news was welcomed by people such as Leeds council leader Keith Wakefield who said: "It will strengthen Leeds' position as the northern transport hub, and unlock major investment, jobs opportunities and connectivity to the rest of the country."

And even Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle was in agreement with the plans as she said: "I think it's tremendously important that we link our airports to our cities - not some station in the middle of nowhere near a city - and bypass our main hub airports. So I think there are questions to be asked and we will be asking them, but overall this is a good thing for the country and we need to get on and give certainty."

Construction of the London-West Midlands route is expected to begin around 2017, once Parliament has approved the necessary powers, probably in 2015.

But does all this money being spent on the rail network mean that less money will be spent on the UK’s failing and faltering motorways? Or is it just a pre-cursor to an announcement that, because so much money is being spent on the railways, the country cannot afford to spend as much on the roads so will have to rely on private investment – which may or may not lead to more toll roads?

I certainly hope not.

 

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