The British government’s plans to establish a high speed rail network have been dealt another blow, as Members of Parliament belonging to the Environment Select Committee demanded that the trains should slow down in order to reduce carbon emissions.
The news comes as the project known as ‘HS2’ comes under increased scrutiny, with campaigners stating that the cost-benefit ratio does not stack up in Britain’s favour. The select committee claim that a reduction from the current proposed speed of 225 mph will help reduce the environmental foot print of the £80bn project, but this reduction in speed may make the entire project pointless.
At its current planned speed HS2 will reduce the journey times from London to Birmingham by just 32 minutes. This may fall to zero if speeds are reduced enough. Another problem with the project is that it goes through some of England’s countryside, and there are real fears that rural communities will be destroyed by it.
The government has struggled to persuade the public to support HS2, with its business case being the subject of constant challenges. Officially the government maintain the benefit-cost ratio is £2.30 for every pound spent, but this fell from £2.50 in its most recent assessment.
If HS2 slows down, and holds to the Institute of Economic Affair’s £80bn cost projections, then even the government’s own figures suggest it would have almost no benefit at all to the country.
The campaign manager of the ‘Stop HS2’ group, Joe Rukin said: “When the committee asked how the environmental impact of HS2 could be minimised, we told them the only thing you could do, besides cancelling the project would be to slow it down.
“The design speed of HS2 has been plucked out of the air to make the business case work, but that comes at a massive cost to the environment. From the start, HS2 Ltd have treated the environmental havoc their project will cause as an inconvenience to be brushed under the carpet.
“It is absolutely essential that the environment is protected as much as possible from HS2 and not sacrificed to cut costs.”
But Transport Minister Robert Goodwill MP told the committee: “HS2 has been a transport project, and it has never been promoted primarily to reduce carbon. However, we are serious about carbon and that is why we have produced a carbon footprint for the project far earlier than any other project of this scale and complexity.”
Throughout the project, questions have been asked about why the solution to overcrowding had to be delivered through the public sector. The Department for Transport has been accused of making it deliberately hard for the private sector to deliver major infrastructure projects.
Whilst there are a number major rail building projects being proposed by the private sector, almost none have gone ahead since the railways were nationalised.