By Tasmia Akkas
The British government has proposed a ‘railway revolution’ entitled HS2 and declared to spend £32.7 billion on a high-speed rail link from London to Manchester and Leeds. Although HS2 may seem like project that will boost our economy, there have been doubts regarding the environmental and economic realities of the plan.
There have been large campaigns in the Chilterns area to preserve the local village. Equally there have been campaigns from citizens in London and the affect the project will have on homes and local businesses.
On the economical side, the tunnels are costly to build but also mean that maintenance is more expensive than a simple open track railway system. Therefore running costs will be increased according to Steven Hayter of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
However other countries have endorsed the high-speed links and this has strengthened the country as it allows the City to be reachable. In Britain the gap between the North and South is somewhat non-existent and the proposed plan will aim to bridge the divide. However there is evidence that instead of pushing economic growth, high-speed rail systems can actually remove economic activity from the regions towards the centre. If the bridge between the North and South is supposed to be reduced, removing away local economic services will not help.
Furthermore, the Research Institute of Applied Economics at the University of Barcelona has completed a study on existing high-speed rail networks in Japan, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. The report suggested that smaller cities linked to larger cities by a high-speed connection sometimes suffered from a negative agglomeration effect. Although visits to surrounding cities may increase, few will stay over night. Instead “Train passengers staying at least one night at their destination fell from 74% to 46%” (Research Institute of Applied Economics, University of Barcelona). This negative effect could affect the British hotel and restaurant trade, which depend on tourists.
The report’s conclusion should also be noted and taken into consideration. It states: “the economic impacts of HSR are somewhat limited. The largest cities in the network might receive limited gains, but this is not the case for immediate cities.” (Research Institute of Applied Economics, University of Barcelona).
Furthermore, regions such as Coventry will see their current direct fast rail service to London slashed from three each hour to one each hour, and the train is likely to run ten minutes slower. The project threatens to affect local economies in Coventry and Warwickshire.
Ms Greening, Transport Secretary, has urged MPs to “be ambitious” and show the world that Britain “is a can-do country” and focus on the number of jobs that will arise. There is no doubt that Britain can forgo with the project and is in need for jobs but the question arises if the public purse wishes to build such a hefty project that will constrain the purse even more than it is.
Although the prospects of jobs are promising, are faster trains the only jobs the British economy can provide? Does Britain need faster trains? For most members of the public in Britain they don’t want faster trains, but cheaper ones.
For more information, the report can be accessed here: http://danbyles.co.uk/conservatives/files/dan_byles/4.%20High%20Speed%20Rail%20Study%20-%20Barcelona%20Research%20Institute%20of%20Applied%20Economics.pdf
(Photo credit: Matt Buck/ flickr:mattbuck4950)