And here are just a few of the major suburban rail benefits which we would lose if HS2’s eastern arm is scrapped:
At Leeds, the removal of 125mph trunk route expresses from the East-West platforms onto HS2E’s new platforms will release both the currently heavily-congested terminus and through platforms for more services into the Wharfe and Aire valleys and towards Bradford, as well as much more space for services linking across the city towards Huddersfield in one direction and Hull in the other. The emerging Transpennine Route Upgrade will become impossible because it relies on the released capacity at Leeds created by moving the fast trains onto HS2. This creates the much wider problem of how Leeds can serve the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals if that released capacity is not available.
At Sheffield (already congested by cutbacks), HS2E will provide greatly enhanced capacity through segregating infrastructure and enabling many more local services.
In the East Midlands, both Derby and Nottingham would lose out because of the station capacity currently clogged up by regular direct London trains.
Birmingham, too, would lose out heavily, as no HS2E means that New Street will have to continue serving long-distance expresses which would all move to Curzon Street.
But perhaps the region which would be hit hardest by scrapping HS2E would be the East Midlands, which has suffered for decades already as the poor relation for all kinds of investment and economic benefits, which already seem to always go elsewhere. Not only would the East Midlands lose all the enhanced urban and inter-urban benefits I’ve just described, it would also result in no benefits arising at its existing trunk route stations, where capacity is already struggling to cope. This list includes Peterborough, Newark, Grantham and all connecting local stations.
Building HS2E is by far the fastest, most cost-effective way to enable and deliver all these benefits to hundreds of stations and millions of people. Existing network upgrades, as the West Coast Route Modernisation proved two decades ago, are slower, more expensive, more disruptive and of only marginal benefit. It is fantasy to suggest otherwise.
More widely, a frequently heard and utterly ludicrous complaint is that Wales derives ‘no benefits whatsoever from HS2’ because ‘not a single inch of track is in Wales’, and yet the Welsh people are ‘forced to pay for it’. Rubbish. Here’s just one clear benefit which critics choose to ignore.
Capacity release enabled by HS2 at Birmingham New Street, for example, has a hugely beneficial impact on key services to Aberystwyth alone. It will enable more frequent services right across central Wales and its intermediate stations, and they might actually run on time, too, rather than being perpetually delayed (as at present) by waiting outside Wolverhampton to find their way through the congestion which HS2 would eliminate.
No new infrastructure means no new released capacity benefits for hundreds of stations and millions of people - including in Wales. It’s that simple.
Meanwhile, the Government is pressing ahead with a roads programme of 75 schemes, totalling 4,000 miles of road, that will add around 20 million tonnes of CO2 over just 12 years - fuelling climate change!
Compare that with HS2. The 14.5-mile new Lower Thames motorway crossing alone, for example, will generate 5.7 million tonnes of CO2 in 60 years, while affecting 54 hectares of woodland in just 12 miles, compared with just 58 hectares of ancient woodland directly affected on the entire 470-mile HS2W and HS2E network.
Yet you hear next to no Green complaints about this roads plan, compared with the hysteria generated by HS2 in their ranks. I exclude the Greens for HS2 group from this criticism as they are always objective and balanced.
By the way, did you know that since 2000, 7,000 hectares of Scottish forestry has been felled for wind farm construction, and (to set context) that annual forestry harvest in Finland, for example, is 19,000 hectares? HS2 deserves credit for having an impact on just 58 hectares of woodland over 470 miles of route. This sort of information needs much wider circulation in this debate to help ensure greater objectivity.
Scrap HS2E and we would ‘level up’ in the North West but, leave the East and North East behind economically. Northern Powerhouse Rail would be neutered as a workable economic entity in its own right. In an attempt to keep pace and to meet demand, extra infrastructure work will be needed to existing railways - and we know this will cost significantly more while creating endless misery and disruption… all to deliver only a fraction of the benefits of HS2.
Scrapping HS2E would be political suicide for Prime Minister Boris Johnson personally, for the MPs of the ‘Red Wall’, and for the Conservative Government itself. Much more importantly, millions of people will be denied the life chances, jobs and wider benefits they both deserve and need.
Scrapping HS2E would be terrible news for absolutely everyone. End of.