Why the 21st century isn’t a decade too soon for high-speed trains

As HS2 and HS3 look to the future, if we want to live in the 21st century we need to get to work by train The future of our railways is going to be…

Why the 21st century isn’t a decade too soon for high-speed trains

As HS2 and HS3 look to the future, if we want to live in the 21st century we need to get to work by train

The future of our railways is going to be more than just two high-speed train lines. This week, two of the biggest projects were announced: HS2 and HS3, which are both in development and will look to link London with Birmingham and London with Glasgow.

HS2, currently being built between London and Birmingham, is due to be open to passengers in 2026. HS3, between London and Blackpool, is similarly scheduled to be operational in 2028, although the government will keep an eye on how high travel demand develops in and around London.

HS2 and HS3: key points and future plans Read more

HS2 is currently in its second major expansion – known as project 27 – and is going to the survey stage to develop the route further west towards Scotland. But it won’t go over the proposed route in a small section, instead dropping down to follow on its route to Reading. When it was first announced, HS2 failed to take full account of the impact on the surrounding area.

Early work in the consultation has included finding more wiggle room and incorporating upgrades to existing rail lines, instead of cutting them away. According to Nick Harvey, the chairman of HS2, it’s important to take into account “the shaping of the urban environment”, “making decisions that will have the most beneficial impact for the customer” and “overall sustainability”.

But it’s important not to overstate HS2’s environmental benefits: as the man in charge of the project, Harvey, said in 2016: “We know what the impact will be. It’s going to be hard to avoid,” and that “ensuring we all take part in the debate is going to be necessary for us to mitigate what are clearly challenging issues”. The final plans for the programme will be submitted to the Department for Transport in early 2018 and are expected to be approved, possibly in 2019.

HS3’s environmental impact – as well as the fact that two of its lines are already extended and some potentially sensitive rural areas are overlooked – is likely to be another reason that this project is unlikely to be approved.

Don’t rely on HS2 – review journeys to ‘work smarter’ Read more

And although it remains unclear whether HS3 will be delayed or ended, both plans have been a cause of controversy. Its downsides are largely in its design – planned high-speed trains (it calls them FastTrack trains) will not fit into the existing urban layout, so HS3 will need to create much more space for trains. Currently, a new high-speed line has been blamed for the cost and time of a residential regeneration project at High Wycombe – resulting in over 14,000 homes being knocked down.

Meanwhile, a change to the rail map is currently under way – HS2 is to be extended to Sheffield – and it seems as though HS3 is finally getting an end. But as Alan Kreuger, who wrote a report for the Campaign for Better Transport on HS2 and HS3, has argued, the gap between the two projects is something to be addressed before it is either scrapped or extended: “There are so many limitations on HS2 it is hard to imagine that they will be filled up just by extending it,” he said.

The changes are already hurting London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, who was left frustrated by the lack of consultation regarding the proposed line between Milton Keynes and Stamford.

Even if the two projects aren’t to be resolved at the same time, and are merely funded alongside each other, their impact on passengers will likely be felt in the future. We need to get to work in the 21st century – trains need to be designed, especially those for the high-speed age – and that means better information and the option of opting for a shorter journey.

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