High Speed Rail: Upgrading existing rail network should be priority

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

hs2-trainCommenting on the British Government's announcement of Monday, December 20, 2010 revealing the proposed route for the new high-speed rail link, Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner, Richard Dyer said: “We urgently need investment in faster, better rail travel - but current high- speed rail plans will do little to cut climate-changing emissions or entice people out of planes and cars.”

“The Government's priority should be to upgrade our existing overcrowded rail network - so ordinary travellers can benefit from better commuter and longer- distance services.

“More must also be done to encourage greener motoring and boost cycling and walking for short distances - which is better for our health and the environment.

“High-speed rail could play a part in a low-carbon transport network, but only if it is powered from renewable sources and backed by action to make rail travel cheaper and more attractive than flying or driving.

“UK transport policy has been stuck in the wrong lane for far too long - it's time to steer it in a new and greener direction.”

I have said ever basically since this hair-brained idea of the HSR to Birmingham has been on the table that it is not high-speed rail that we need but proper railroad infrastructure.

The Friends of the Earth spokesman is still on about the need for high-speed rail, much like the government, with the addition that the says that the existing rail network should be priority. That one has to agree with and I have said that time and again.

Friends of the Earth says that, if built, the new line must not go through protected sites like Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs - the UK's highest wildlife designation) and impacts on the landscape must be avoided where possible or else minimised. But I would suggest that the entire hair-brained scheme be scrapped and that proper, reliable, rail services are created in a national railway company, as British Rail once was. Services worked and were affordable, unlike today.

84% of passengers on HS2 will be taking new journeys or transferring from existing rail services; only 16% will be people who would have otherwise travelled by air or car - HS2 Command Paper. March 2010

Nearly half of all passengers arriving in London in the morning peak in 2008 were on trains that were full or overcrowded - National Audit Office "Increasing Rail Capacity"

Network Rail predicts that there will be a 30 per cent in the numbers of commuters using National Rail services into the capital during the weekday morning peaks up to 2031. Network Rail South East Route Utilisation Strategy Dec 2010

The HS2 high-speed rail idea will do nothing to change the current problems that we are having in that people use their cars too much, especially on shorter journeys, journeys that could easily be done on foot, by bike or by affordable public transport (if it be in existence), or fly too much on longer journeys. It will do nothing to offset our current emissions and pollution caused by the use of the motorcar, and here especially on short journeys.

The high-speed rail scheme should have been buried with the spending review but apparently got a nice ring-fence erected around it. Why? Simply because someone's cronies are getting a nice fat backhander? Or is it false prestige? If the latter, very much like nuclear, we cannot afford it.

Our biggest problem in Britain as to getting people out of their cars and onto public transport and the railroad is that our services are simply way too expensive.

British rail fares are double if not more of those of the next most expensive country in Europe, namely France. All other countries are far cheaper than France and the UK and have, thus a much greater uptake of public transport and rail travel, on trains that are, in the main, reliable and clean. Much more than can be said for the British service.

While British Rail was, maybe, at times a problem the fares were affordable and trains ran well enough if we were not plagued, as too often in those days, by strikes.

Privately owned companies have no place in public transport, whether buses, trams, metro, or railroad passenger services. Why not? Because the majority of the owners of such companies do not have the traveling public at heart but their bottom line and that of their shareholders.

We need to re-nationalize the railways in Britain, at least the passenger rail services, and not give out franchises to private enterprises wanting to make lots of money from fleecing the traveling public.

Time for a serious rethink and change and time to bury the high-speed rail idea, for the time being at least.

© 2010