The British government is set to spend billions of dollars to build a High Speed Rail (HSR) line that will run between London and Birmingham. Opinions on this project have been as varied as they are vitriolic. For every person that sees the enormous benefits of the project, an opposite member of society sees the huge drawbacks that such a project can entail. There has already been a large amount of money spent on determining if the project is feasible, and many a report has been generated both on the pro-side of the argument, and on the con side of the same argument.
That new forms of transportation, or at least vastly improved forms of old transportation norms, are greatly needed by Europe in general, and specifically Great Britain is considered by many to be a given fact. As a two thousand and eight study by the Department of Transport determined "over the past decade we have seen a transformation in rail usage, both passenger and freight" (DT, 2008, p. 6). That transformation has been significant. According to the report "passenger miles increased 3.5% per annum and passenger journeys increased by 3.8% per annum between 1997/98 and 2007/08. During this period domestic freight moved has also increased by over 2% per annum" (p. 6).
Additionally, the trend towards 'greener' modes of travel, and the impact that a faster, more efficient and more traveler friendly high speed rail system would have on Great Britain's economy have been reasons presented for moving forward with the high speed rail project.
There are plenty of detractors to the project however, and many of the detractors have published their own findings, beliefs and demands.
An example of such statements was recently made in a report by Better Than HS2 which said "we should generally prioritize getting greater use from our existing assets before building new ones" (www.BetterthanHS2.org, 2011, p. 3)
This report seeks to determine the contrasting viewpoints presented on both sides of the issue; whether the high speed rail system makes good economical sense as suggested by many groups including the government, or whether other options might make better sense in the long run.
On the very first page of a report generated by Bluespace Thinking Ltd. In April 2010, the statement "effective and affordable transportation systems are crucial to economic development and make a major contribution to the quality of life" (Bluespace, 2010, p. 1). What is ironic is that even with this opening gambit that admits to the need for effective and affordable transportation systems, Bluespace goes on to trash the idea that HS2 is either affordable or a feasible idea.
In the same Bluespace study, a conclusion is presented that "we do not consider that the HS2 project is economically viable and if it goes ahead it occurs to us that in 30 years time the Public Accounts Select Committee of the day will question why (particularly at a time of fragile economic recovery) £25.5 billion of government grants were spent in this way" (p. 13).
This conclusion is based on the supposed fact that "in carrying out this assessment we have been surprised at the extent to which the generally held view that HSR will reduce emissions, create economic benefit and reduce congestion is not supported by the data" (p. 13). In other words, Bluespace does not believe the data, facts or figures as presented in the DT report generated in 2008.
Other reports side with Bluespace, including an A Better than HS2 report that states "the business case for HS2 is very weak and has been based on a number of false premises" (AbetterthanHS2.org, p. ). Additionally the report surmised that there were a number of other false claims made by the government asserting benefits that would likely not take place. One of the supposedly false claims includes the assertion that carbon emissions in Britain will actually increase rather than decrease as stated by the DT report. Another report, however, agrees with the DT report with the denunciation of the AbetterthanHS2.org statement that says "when HS2 is extended beyond the first phase, it is likely that the carbon savings will increase dramatically because of the increased mode shift from air to car" (Greengauge21, p. 33). The same Greengauge21 report added the caveat that as the "HS2 infrastructure is extended beyond the West Midlands and to Heathrow, the journey time and increased connectivity benefits it delivers are even more valuable" (p. 33).
The Greengauge21 report and other private and government reports have detailed benefits that include the fact that time spent on trains would be economically more productive, yet Bluespace doubts that and asserts that (at least in the DT report) there was no supporting data for that assertion, there was no realistic comparator used and that a required sensitivity analysis had not been completed as required.
One of the strongest assertions made by the report was that "there was little evidence that a new railway would bring regeneration or significant job creation" (Bluespace, p.13).
The DT report also details the economic viability of the project by documenting other complementary projects that will increase ridership, alleviate congestion, reduce length of time on the train and improved stations and regeneration areas throughout the route(s) the HS2 will follow. Page 8 of the Department of Transportation report documents one such ancillary project title Crossrail. This is a project that DT says "will significantly increase the capacity of the rail network into and across London, relieving congest and overcrowding on the national railway and on the London Underground" (DT, p. 8). The Crossrail project, according to the report, will supposedly generate around an extra 10% of transport capacity while also adding "over 20bn to the UK economy, and generate over 100,000 jobs in the City, Dockland and regeneration areas" (DT, p. 8).
However, a financial analysis undertaken by Wendover HS2 disbelieves much of the government assertions. Wendover states that "we have from HS2 Ltd. An unbalanced document full of hyperbole, spin and numerical obfuscation" (Wendover, p. 2). Wendover continues along the same vein by stating "in most case, these numbers are unknown quantities multiplied by uncertain factors and accumulated over 75 years" (Wendover, p. 2).
To say that there are differences of opinion can be considered an understatement in this specific case. Questions remain as to which side of the issue is right, and which side is wrong.
However, a 2011 Greengauge 21 report looked at how the HS2 project would help other areas of concern. What that report documented was that "the benefits of HS2 will in practice be spread over a wide corridor" (Greengauge, 2011, p. 5). The report also found that a very broad sweep of the geography between London and Birmingham stands to gain from the HS2 project with the added caveat "provided a wider strategy is adopted alongside the planned project delivery arrangements for HS2 itself" (Greengauge21, p. 5).
This is an interesting assertion from Greengauge21, yet it also is contested by other reports. In fact, Bluespace contends that if the first phase of HS2 takes place "we think it unlikely that Phase 2 will proceed because we assume that the decision makers will learn from the experience of, at that time, two HSR projects" (Bluespace, p. 33).
Competing reports, studies, reports, facts and figures in this case generate debate that will likely carry on for years if not decades. No one person can accurately predict how the future rolls out. Certain assumptions are always made when it comes to projects such as the HS2 project. The key is to take a serious look at all the factors and considerations and move on from there. It seems as if everyone has an agenda, and that certain groups would be against any project such as this…