Campaigners say the decision to cancel part of the HS2 route proves why the entire project should have been scrapped.

An artist’s impression of the HS2 line

The Government confirmed last week that the proposed leg to Leeds would no longer go ahead.

But Stop HS2’s Joe Rukin said the decision was further proof that the project – which will see part of the line cut through Lichfield and surrounding villages – was doomed from the start.

“Right from the very first meetings I was going to almost a decade ago, I was telling people that by the time they got round to this leg, the entire budget would have been blown down south.

“The cancellation of the Eastern leg of HS2 is vindication of everything we’ve been saying for a decade – that you can deliver more benefits to more people, more quickly and for less money without the massive environmental impact by upgrading existing infrastructure, reopening old lines and providing sustainable local transport.

“That’s what people need to get in and around the towns and cities where they live and work – they don’t need a fast train for fat cats that only ever got this far to prop up the powerful lobbyists from the construction industry.”

Joe Rukin, Stop HS2

Despite the cancellation of the Leeds leg, Lichfield still faces more than a year of disruption as the section of the line through the region is built.

Penny Gaines, from Stop HS2, said the money for the controversial high speed rail scheme could have been used to create improvements across the existing transport network.

“Now that they are putting spades in the ground, it is becoming abundantly clear that they can’t build HS2 with the specifications dreamt up by London-based politicians. 

“What they should have done is cancel the project in its entirety so they can make the improvements to local and regional transport that ordinary people want.”

Penny Gaines, Stop HS2

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8 Comments

  1. Sadly, the ‘Stop HS2’ campaigners continue to repeat their arguments that HS2 is simply about the speed of travel and that improving local services and reopening lines are an alternative to building HS2

    Speed is largely irrelevant – all new rail lines, since the days of the Stephensons and Brunel, have been built to run trains at the maximum speed possible at the time

    The main purpose of HS2 is to create significant additional capacity on our existing main lines, which now operate at or near maximum train capacity most of the time

    Without this extra capacity, there is no room for more local services or connections with reopened lines

    Mr Rukin repeats the idea of upgrading existing lines

    The rail engineers have improved existing lines and continue to do so, but they have to work within the constraints of what is essentially a Victorian system. At best, they can improve capacity by only a very small margin

    The only significant upgrade that would dramatically increase capacity is widening the existing lines with additional tracks

    In urban areas, this is no longer possible unless we are prepared to spend colossal sums and demolish thousands of homes and commercial properties, while simultaneously disrupting traffic on these lines for many years

    The only feasible upgrade is the construction of HS2, which will move long distance services to their own segregated line and open up capacity on the WCML, MML and ECML for better local services and freight

    I appreciate that HS2 has a major impact on communities directly in its path

    The resulting problems could have been partly alleviated by following the European model, in which properties are purchased at values above the current market price to ensure that nobody is financially disadvantaged and that some level of compensation is included – while not a complete answer, this would provide security, which the current U.K. “penny pinching” approach does not

    Without HS2, the future will be more road building, more domestic air travel and the task of reducing CO2 emissions will become a great deal more difficult

  2. @Mike ODonnell…. And the peripheral impact? Few stops on HS2. Onward journeys to destinations? Where is the balance in this scheme? The country is just not terriotorialy big enough for such a ‘service’. London to Inverness if you like but saving very little on a hundred mile journey is not needed or justifiable. Line viability could easily be met by better technology.
    Politics is a dirty business. This scheme exemplifies this and will be shown to be a monumental mistake. The motivations will be apparent as the wheels come off. By then, of course, the paymasters will be appeased and perpetrators long retired.

  3. Before commencing my answer, I will ask your forebearance if this message is even longer than my previous missive. This is a complex subject and we need to consider details.

    In response to Philip, I think I can best answer his points by selecting examples from all over the U.K. – to illustrate how widely HS2 will benefit the whole country.

    In the South, the horribly congested ECML will gain significant capacity, allowing more commuter services, south of Peterborough in particular.

    In the East Midlands, the ECML will open up to allow people living in the Peterborough to Doncaster corridor to have, for the first time in years, a reasonably regular service. Under the new ECML timetable, travel between Grantham, Newark and Retford will become even more of a trial than it is now.

    Felixstowe is the UK’s busiest container port, served by 50-60 trains per day. These access the West Midlands, the North and Scotland either via London (which is absurd) or by wending their way through East Anglia and the Midlands, competing with multiple other services. The East Midlands is very poorly served because there simply aren’t any spare paths at some locations.

    Birmingham New Street is the worst rail bottleneck in the country. It cannot be extended because the walls of the concrete ‘box’ it sits in also act as foundations of the nearby city buildings. There is also no space for extra approach tracks. Until Curzon Street station tales the long distance trains out of New Street, Birmingham commuters will remain limited to grossly inadequate services and permanent overcrowding.

    With extra space at New Street, Aberystwyth and mid-Wales can finally get an hourly (or better) service to Birmingham, instead of the current two hourly apology for a service.

    Trans Pennine services cannot improve until Leeds and Manchester Piccadilly are rebuilt, with long distance HS2 trains using their own segregated lines and platforms. These routes impact not only direct journeys but also the many ‘rural’ services, which terminate in Leeds or Manchester and currently have poor service frequencies.

    I could add to this list, but I hope I’ve made the wider benefits clear.

    We also have the issue of increasing passenger numbers – on many services, a doubling every decade. Long distance services are already back to close to their pre-Covid levels. With no possibility of increasing train capacity, the long term outcome will be airline ticketing and higher fares to discourage travellers or move them to coaches or domestic airlines.

    I genuinely do not see how line viability can now be improved by technology. When a line has maximum train capacity, no technology can add more trains. Signalling improvements are useful but have a minimal effect. Higher speeds actually make the problem worse, as even bigger gaps have to be built in to prevent faster trains catching up with slower trains.

    Apologies again for the length of my answer, but this is a complex issue, which cannot be understood just by looking at HS2 services. The real benefits will be experienced by the millions of passengers on the other main lines – the WCML, MML and ECML. Rail freight can also be enhanced.

    Or would have been had the government not developed its utterly ludicrous alternative strategy, as announced last week.

    If you’ve made it this far, Thankyou.

  4. @Mick ODonnell… My understanding is that HS2 is intended as a high speed, time saving, link between London and the South East in order to distribute work and opportunities more equitably. It might be that for East and West coast lines this might reduce some present use but is unlikely to save either time or be financially viable for most.
    Somehow justification for its construction has been changed to imply the whole rail network will benefit. I do not believe this is probable as cost constraints would prevent this. However I reiterate that computer signalling will allow shorter gaps between trains. As most trains are underused outside commuter times this too might be unnecessary. It would also require a lot more rolling stock.
    So many of the population (including Lichfield) live beyond any savings of time the HS2 line might offer. This renders it unusable. We suffer all the inconvenience for no tangible gain.
    Thank you for your fulsome reply but it has the hallmark of a government fudge and some sort of manufactured justification. In fact I think the government would be glad to ditch the whole project, not just the North East Arm, were it not for the political backlash this would create.

  5. Philip – I do need to reassure you that I am just an interested layperson and do not represent any organisation.

    I draw most of my information from the professional engineers in the rail industry – I read as widely as I can and luckily have a couple of friends who work in the industry.

    One of the most unfortunate aspects of HS2 is the way it has been represented, by non professionals of many hues.

    The scheme was developed as a means of enhancing capacity and has always been about capacity. The use of high speed technology was secondary – I refer you back to my original comment re the Stephensons and Brunel. The major benefit from speed will be the competition with domestic air travel and reduction of CO2 emissions.

    It would, of course, have been ridiculous to plan a 100mph line but that would actually give exactly the same capacity benefits.

    The whole discussion / controversy about speed on HS2 is essentially a diversion from its real purpose.

    I do not for one moment disagree that technology can enhance capacity, but all lines have a maximum train capacity – in theory that is 18 trains per hour in any one direction. In practice, with U.K. lines carrying trains at different speeds, the working maximum is significantly lower.

    I am extremely fortunate that my local line (serving North London, Herts and Beds) is highly efficient. My local station has 12 trains per hour, with either 8 or 12 carriages. Freight services etc push this capacity higher. These numbers are our maximum, however

    On my travels, I experience just how badly served are the other regions of the U.K. But this won’t improve until it’s possible to create more access in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. These stations are full snd the effects radiate outwards to much wider regions.

    Passenger capacity is, in part, a separate issue.

    I see the rail network as a public service, not an exercise in profits for private companies.

    An efficient service will inevitably mean empty seats during the less busy times. I don’t have any problem with that.

    On my line, the 12 carriage trains are often full (even post covid) but lightly used at other times, eg mid morning, mid afternoon or 3.00 am (yes, we have a 24 hour service).

    What matters is that we can turn up at the station and catch a train within five minutes.

    In New Street, I see much shorter trains, running at 15, 30 or 60 minute intervals, even at peak times. This isn’t acceptable.

    I genuinely think that once HS2 is up and running, the western side of the country (at least) will see the capacity benefits – in long distance and local services. This must inevitably boost the local economy.

    In the South, especially in and around London, we have really good public transport systems – I have never owned a car – I think the same should be available to other regions

    The problem is that your current rail network is fossilised in the 1960s post Beeching era and can’t expand (ever !!) without major new infrastructure.

    Look at the service pattern for some stations on the line south from Birmingham toward Coventry. Hopeless. But it’s an area where you can see brand new housing estates being constructed.

    Our rail engineers are highly talented people but they cannot fit the proverbial quart into a pint pot.

    All the best – Mick

  6. Thank you Mick, I appreciate you taking the time and the manner in which you express your oppinions.
    As in most things (including council decisions) the outcome will involve collateral damage. This has, of course, been the case for all transport systems for all times. While your explanation may extol the virtue of sacrifice for the greater good, HS2 has had serious consequences for both societies and environments. That we are not the Turkeys voting for Christmas is probably no surprise to you.
    Lastly, in deference to your opinions, I think from where we are now that while the rail system might be improved it will never be perfected.
    Regards… Philip

  7. Philip – Thank you for your courtesy and views.

    The collateral damage is, I fear, the saddest aspect of any major infrastructure project.

    At least we have advanced somewhat since Victorian times, when the sheer brutality of projects was horrendous. As a Londoner, who genuinely loves the sprawling, diverse chaos that is my city, I am only too well aware of the cruelties inflicted on the poor when our public transport system was created.

    There is, however, no “good” solution – we can only aim to develop the “least bad” response. In our crowded collection of islands, there are inevitably people in the path of any new road, railway, etc

    This is why I suggested the European approach. If people’s lives are to be disrupted, at least ensure that they receive the full market value of their properties and compensation. I have no problem with adding 10 or 20% to the value of a property, simply as an apology. Anybody in rented accommodation should still receive some compensation.

    This would, at least, help to avoid the inevitable stress of financial worries. Regrettably, I just don’t have a solution to other aspects of the disruption.

    Perhaps large projects could also employ staff to assist with finding a new home, new schools and the process of moving. In the context of the project, the additional costs would be very small.

    There is one aspect of collateral damage that I should like to mention – the environmental effects.

    I speak as an environmentalist, who worked as a professional zoologist / ecologist.

    The figures quoted for environmental damage due to HS2 are out of date and exaggerated – simple as that.

    Fourteen miles of motorway construction for the new Thames crossing will destroy as much woodland as the whole 350 miles of HS2. Motorways are big things (!!), HS2 will only be approximately 10 metres wide.

    The problem is that the term “environmental impact” is not widely understood. “Impacts” include dust and noise during construction and whether you can see or hear the line from the location – it does not necessarily mean destruction of the site.

    Damage will occur, but planning took several years and a genuine attempt has been made to reduce the effects, eg lengthening tunnels in the Chilterns to avoid some problems.

    My concern is that without HS2, road building will accelerate, causing far more damage and increasing our CO2 emissions.

    To put this in perspective – the total construction of HS2 will generate 1.45 million tonnes of CO2. As an electric service, the CO2 emitted in use will depend on how we generate power.

    In contrast, road transport produces 130 million tonnes of CO2 per annum.

    If HS2 reduces road usage by just one percent for one year, it will effectively cover its total construction emissions – that’s a bargain in my book. Thereafter, it will reduce emissions year on year.

    If you would like more details on this, “Greens for HS2” have a very informative website.

    Regards – Mick

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