For and Against: High speed rail

Daisy BlacklockYouGovLabs writer
Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
January 20, 2012, 9:47 AM GMT+0

HS2 has been given the ‘green light’ from the Government to lay its high-speed line across the Great British landscape. By 2026, it is thought the new, fully-functioning high-speed rail link will make the journey between London-Birmingham in just 49 minutes. (Currently, a journey between London Euston and Birmingham’s New Street station is anywhere between 1 hour 20 and 2 hours and 30 minutes long.) By 2032-33, subsequent legs will have been attached to Manchester, Leeds and Heathrow airport, with other lines being discussed that will reach into Scotland. And all for an estimated final bill of £32.7 billion.

Construction may not be due to start for a few years yet, but attitudes towards HS2 certainly seem split.

YouGov’s recent nationally representative polling on HS2 found that 42% of the British public support and 37% oppose the plans.

We invited participants into our political Soapbox to state whether they were for, against, or on the fence, on the high speed rail development, and to argue their case. Here we look at the spectrum of argument to get a sense of what you are feeling on all sides of the debate.

For some, HS2 marks a return to Britain’s world-leading engineering heyday; is the key to the UK’s economic recovery; a long-needed opportunity for business investment and job creation in the Midlands and Northern England. But for others the cost is simply too high. The ‘Stop HS2’ campaign argues that there is “no business case; no environmental case; no money to pay for it”. People are set to lose their homes and businesses, varyingly compensated – according to Transport Secretary Justine Greening’s go-ahead statement – by “a package of measures”; tailored depending on the level of impact the ‘rolling out’ of HS2 has on the residents of affected communities. What’s more, how can the Government afford it?

The debate unfolds here…?

1. In favour of...HS2

Argument 1 - HS2 will bring the UK into the 21st century

“It is a clear opportunity for ground-breaking technology to set up a significantly future-proof element of our transport infrastructure which can eventually spread across and connect the whole country” Stephen Y, London

“Existing railways are poor, inefficient and lack the capacity and technology this country requires now and will require in the future. Infrastructure is essential to keep the economy growing and moving” Mr Singh, Solihull

“We need to have a strategic aggressive strategy to reduce cars off our roads and ease congestion on our blocked-up roads and motorways” Anon, North-west England

“It's about time this country caught up with the rest of the world, our trains are a disgrace – never on time, nearly always dirty, hardly a great experience. When I look at the mode of travel by trains in Japan and such places, I feel ashamed of our trains” Anon?

“New routes have been long-needed for freight – rail is more efficient than road for transporting bulk goods in particular, and a frequent, fast service is good for all business sectors” Terry R, London

Argument 2 - HS2 will be good for business and rebuild Britain's economy

“Better transport links between major cities and the capital will boost business, trade and migration leading to greater development in the North and Midlands and the creation of jobs and prosperity” Chris H

“Improving transport connections in the rest of the UK will help to balance the economy away from the City [of London] and the Southeast, while helping to kick-start the economy out of recession. With funds now cheaper than inflation, unemployed engineers, and the economy in need of a boost, this is the perfect moment to start building” Euan D, East Midlands?

“In difficult times infrastructure investment is a tried and tested way of getting the company up on its feet. Jobs will be created throughout the supply chain from the start of the project and eventually the whole country can benefit from enhanced links” Gerri, Lancashire?

“The construction works will provide much needed employment in a number of industries – steel production, rolling stock, construction etc.” Chris, London?

Argument 3 - HS2 will give Europe's railways some competition

“We are already 50 years behind Europe in the development of high speed rail, which considering our pioneering position in the creation of railways is shameful” Bob H, Lincolnshire?

“Whilst most people only view it as a line between London and Birmingham, the more exciting prospect is that it will allow through trains to link up with the European hubs” David, Milton Keynes

“HS2 would help the UK maintain a competitive advantage within Europe. For far too long, the UK has been scared to invest in this type of major infrastructure” Anon?

“Our European neighbours have high speed rail and a north-south high speed rail service – it is critical to put the UK back on the map for rail quality and service” J Dean, Nottinghamshire

“I travel by train a lot and when visiting family in Marseille, I only ever hit problems on this side of the channel. HS2 should bring us up to a more acceptable standard” Viellard, Northeast ?

Argument 4 - HS2 will reduce domestic air travel and carbon emissions

"High speed rail is the future for national travel. Some countryside campaigners seem oblivious to the damage unnecessary air travel does to the planet; I say this as a volunteer for the Campaign to protect rural England but a supporter of HS2” Roger, Dorset

“High speed rail provides an efficient alternative to domestic travel, particularly in a country the size of Britain” Brian P, West Midlands

“Well-designed and -constructed, train tracks are not the ugly scar that huge motorways make and most people actually enjoy riding on a train” Nina, West London??

“High-speed trains obviously consume a considerable amount of energy, but that seems a much more desirable way to do it than cars, motorways or short domestic flights” Marie S, Yorkshire?

Argument 5 - HS2 will help bridge the North-South divide

“We need to take the focus of this country away from London. HS2 is a start but it is 20 years too late. We need a high speed link with Europe which bypasses London” Janet T, Northwest?

“We need to enable and connect other parts of the country; to dissipate the focus of the economy from the South East and promote other regions” Carol, East Midlands?

“Communications with the north of the country are extraordinarily poor ... this link will be an important first step to improving travel times to anywhere north of the Midlands. It is an absolute travesty that the only practicable way to get to Scotland on business is to fly (since going by rail takes so bloody long)” Richard M, Oxfordshire?

“It should "open up" Britain and aid industrial development” Anon?

“Our population is growing fast and there is need to get people living away from the southeast” Anon, Northeast?

Argument 6 - HS2 will benefit ordinary people

“Shorter journey times equate to less stress!” Peter J, East Yorkshire

“Rail travel, apart from being the most civilised form of transport ever devised, is energy efficient and does not require each member of the public to own the transport hardware” Bob H, Lincolnshire

“At present fares are low if you can book well ahead, but capacity on the West Coast route is limiting traffic at many points in the day already, so we can expect restriction by price to be applied more and more. That's no problem for businessmen but for ordinary people it is yet another block on movement. Building HS2 will free capacity for ordinary mortals on the "classic" rail system, as well as helping promote economic growth in the UK” Vic, Northwest

“From a purely selfish point of view it will make travelling to London for leisure purposes (shows, gigs, exhibitions, shopping, theatre) much faster giving people more time in town. We go down about once a month so HS2 will be great” Tony R, Sutton Coalfield

“It will improve long distance rail travel in the country as well as freeing up capacity on the classic rail network” Alan M, Scotland

2. Against...HS2

Argument 1 - Wait a sec, I thought Britain was bankrupt?

"We have other priorities in the country at the moment. Old people at home need care and support to help them stay there with dignity. How the Government can justify all this money for a fast hunk of metal on rails to get people from Birmingham to London when so many older people are at risk at home and being left to God and good neighbours as a result of all these cuts forced by the government, beggars belief” Leslie S?

“Billions of pounds to be spent just to save 40 minutes between London and Birmingham? Spend the money on the NHS if it's available” Stuart, Yorkshire?

“Should be shelved until we are out of financial trouble. I don’t use the trains. I don’t want to go to London” Anon

“In a time of austerity it is a wanton waste of money. This is not the only project where vast sums have been spent, which seriously makes me consider that the economic situation is not as bad as we are told. When people’s standard of living is falling, with jobs and pensions under threat, the many billions being spent on projects like this is really rubbing people’s noses in it. Government’s taking us for fools” Graham C, Nuneaton

Argument 2 - HS2 is a bad, or wrong, investment

"If the Government could just bring its desire to 'be someone' under control and think sensibly about job creation in areas that would benefit the whole population (getting the biggest bang for their buck), they would understand that the adverse effect on the environment and the local inhabitants around the planned route in NO WAY justifies this vanity project” Lou S, St Albans

“All that's happening is the journey time from London to Birmingham gets cut by about 20 minutes. It's going to cost a massive £5,300 an inch. And they're set to use trains with a top speed of only 250MPH. For nine years, Japan has had trains that can reach a top speed of 361MPH. HS2 will be obsolete by the time it is completed: in fact, it already is obsolete” Jordan H, Plymouth

“A better solution would be a high speed route linking Leeds, York, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Carlisle, Liverpool and Leeds. Why would we spend £32.7 billion just to get to Birmingham 23 minutes faster?” Phil H, Northeast England

“Money should be spent in rail technology so that all trains are improved. As a start, the capacity of trains could be improved by adding extra carriages, lengthening the platforms, and reducing First Class, which seems almost empty most of the time. The project will go over-budget and there is no guarantee that British companies or workers will benefit” Janice B, North Wiltshire

Argument 3 - Bad for countryside and communities affected

“The environmental cost is unjustified. Even with the extra tunnelling, habitats are disturbed to put these in place: in at least one case, ploughing through an ancient woodland which has never been ploughed in all its history. Such sites are very rare and should be preserved untouched because they might have very important things to teach us” Anon

“I have family who live in an area that will be ruined by HS2. The Government has no regard for the countryside, wildlife, or people of this country. This is greenbelt land and part of the line goes through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is not theirs to take. The Government is supposed to be a custodian of the British countryside but clearly has no regard for it” Ruth H, Sussex

“I live in South Kilburn which already has an overground line less than 200 feet away, a tube station less than 100 feet away,
and HS2 is meant to pass in-between the two, more or less just under the area with 3 very large buildings accommodating over 400 flats. Not to mention that we already have in the same area a busy mail sorting office and also a primary school.And all that for extra 49 minutes! The proposal is a disaster for the lives of many of us!” Dragana, South Kilburn

Argument 4 - HS2 is a 'white elephant' with few benefits

“I do not believe the Department for Transport’s figures. The line will benefit very few people, and will be a gross over-provision of London-Birmingham trains of which there are already 3 per hour West Coast Main Line, 2 per hour Chiltern, and 2 per hour London Midland via Northampton.

In my view, HS2 will be extremely damaging to the existing railway. I was a senior railway manager for 30 years and thus have some detailed knowledge of the subject, rather more than the civil servants at the DfT I suspect” V, Warwickshire

“They say they will bring it to Scotland, but I doubt that very much. It will be a repeat of the Edinburgh trams situation: no point, as the links are already good; running way over budget and the expected construction time” Michelle H, Scotland

“Return on investment for HS2 is between only £1.80 to £2.60 for every pound spent, but for alternatives that return is more than £6. Improving local rail infrastructure for Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds would do far more for those cities than making them 'closer' to London” Dan H, Gloucestershire

“I don't think it will improve the economy in the local area – I think it will just extend the reach of the commuter zone for those working in London and that the cost of travelling on it will be prohibitive for the average person” Anon

Argument 5 - HS2 will not benefit the ordinary traveller

“Who will be able to afford it by then, assuming a standard rail fair continues to increase at 6% per year? Spend the money patching up the existing infrastructure, and making the existing service more reliable, and affordable. The HS service is just another image builder for the key players, not for the idiots (like me) in the country who will have to fund it” Doug, West London

“It will be like Concorde was, for the rich and famous, and businessmen” BW, North Staffordshire

“I am currently standing in the Hertfordshire Elections to the UK youth parliament, and the one thing that young people all seem to be annoyed by is the constant rise in train fares. HS2 will only serve to

increase the price of train fares

as train companies have to redistribute the costs associated with running on a line such as this. If the Government has extra cash to spare on the transport networks then they should

use it to reduce train fares

by way of a subsidiary or in a form of student discount”

Alex H, North Hertfordshire

3. Indifferent to...HS2

“Why can't this line be built underground? Less scarring of the countryside; less disruption for the people who live there; less noise pollution; less chance of cows/ leaves/ snow/etc. on the track” Chris F, Cambridgeshire

“Don't see the point other than as a large publically-funded work programme” Richard, Southwest

“I have no objection to its creation, but I feel that those who are promoting it should pay for it, not the taxpayer – this will show how confident they are in their projections. Almost all the railways we have were built by private investment in the 19th century” Ian C, London

“If there is no chance of it becoming a reality for the next few years I think it is a total waste of time discussing it” Pat J, West Yorkshire

“Improving the rail network would be a good thing. Blighting the countryside would be a bad thing. Are the arguments being given for and against honest? I don't think so” Clive, London

“On one hand I think it's a good thing – a friend of mine said that it actually takes less time to get from London to Brussels than it does from London to Leeds. On the other, I don’t like the idea of it going through the English countryside” Kylie, South Wales

“The principle is good, the substantiating maths is bad. I fail to see why the terminus is Euston instead of St Pancras (I know that they are almost the same place) so that HS trains exist in a continuum. Also, if it is economically viable, why does the government not pull back and say, there it is, we've established the need and the path, overcome the planning barriers etc., now you, the market, finance, build and operate it.

This route is fairly well served already. Perhaps it should go up the other side of the country!” Rick M, East Anglia

“The rail link will help business travelling between the north and London and vice versa where travel is paid for as an expense. However the price of train tickets will make it difficult for the average commuter to travel from a home location in the north to a place of work; a monthly season ticket between London and Manchester for example is £1,222.70. Building this rail link will only put a higher cost on the regular commuters” Adam, London

Are you for, against, or on the fence when it comes to HS2?

Get on the soapbox and add your voice to the debate using the comment box below