More High-Speed Trains for Britain

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UK High Speed Rail NetworkA comprehensive network of clean, quick, and punctual trains is a wonderful thing. It also seems to be somewhat rare, but Britain is taking a massive step forward in that respect. The HS2 high-speed rail scheme is meant to improve on the infrastructure of Britain’s rail network, connecting London to Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds and using £32.7 billion ($50 billion USD) to do it.

Building the Tracks

The HS2 trains will carry over 1,000 passengers each, some through a number of green tunnels (green because they reduce the amount of earth excavated for construction and, thereby, save money; the environmental benefits are somewhat unclear) in order to preserve picturesque landscapes.

Construction on the tunnels is set to start no earlier than 2017, and the first trains are scheduled to start running in 2026 (no, you cannot buy tickets yet). The entire network is slated for completion in 2033, by which time transport secretary Justine Greening anticipates much quicker travel between major metropolitan areas and also between the north of England and Scotland to London.

Build A New Network or Fix the Old One?

The nearly two-decade plan isn’t without its opposition; there are strong feelings on both sides of the fence. Part of the opposition stems from the cost – the high-speed option is roughly 10% more expensive than trying to upgrade the current system – but Greening feels that doing it properly from the outset will have more long-term benefits. Responding to the need for an entirely new system, she told The Guardian:

“At the heart is the need to address capacity shortfall. Unless we take action, by the 2020s the west coast main line will be full. We’ve used the rail network in a way the Victorians would be proud of. But there comes a time when you can’t just patch things up. It’s clear the existing network won’t deliver. We need a new line.”

Not In My Back Yard

Other opponents worry about the construction itself and the potential for the new lines to be an eyesore (NIMBY, as it were). Greening, however, says that the first phase of construction will create 40,000 jobs, which should relieve some of those concerns.

Still, others worry that the money invested in the new system will not be efficiently spent. Railway expert Christian Wolmar spoke to The Guardian about his reservations:

“The government is driving through this project even though the evidence suggests that there are cheaper alternatives well worth looking at that would relieve other overcrowded parts of the network, such as lines out of Paddington and Victoria.”

A more efficient rail network, particularly if the trains themselves can be outfitted with cleaner technology, could go a long way toward reducing both traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. The HS2 project is still a long way from even the final stages of planning, but it is a hopeful step toward greener transportation.

Key points

  • 400m and 1,000+ seats per train
  • 26,000 extra seats for intercity routes
  • 250mph trains
  • travel distance nearly halved on some intercity routes

Source: The Guardian | Image: Wikimedia Commons

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