Fast train to where?
Government reveal plans to extend HS2 (the UK’s bid to install fast trains such as exist in more developed parts of Europe and Asia). Fast trains from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
Since these are already among our fastest lines, one might suggest there are altogether more deserving candidates for major upgrade. For example, lines between Southwest England and anywhere else are truly dire as soon as you get west of Exeter. But they tell us this is more about capacity than speed, and outside of holiday season it’s true our lines are less overloaded than some of those serving the HS2 destinations.
What about the HS2 itself? The HS2 destination with which I’m most familiar is Sheffield, where I lived and worked for some time. Sheffield is one of the major cities of the industrial north, and will be served by the Leeds branch of HS2.
In my time there, Sheffield was the northern end of a mainline service via the East Midlands to London, and a station on the “cross country” mainline route from southwest England through Bristol and Birmingham, and north to York, Northeast England and Scotland. What it lacked were comparable connections to nearby major cities: Manchester was a scenic but very secondary route through the Peak District, while the Leeds journey was ugly, slow and hideously uncomfortable. Both routes were a sick joke in the context of the size and importance of the cities they link.
So at least the HS2 connection to Leeds should be a real and big improvement. Except, it isn’t quite that. The station won’t be in Sheffield city centre, it’ll be at Meadowhall, which is convenient for nothing but the motorway. So that makes two journeys with a change at Meadowhall, which would seem to lose most of the benefit. The East Midlands station looks even worse: a station midway between Nottingham and Derby serving
There are valid reasons to site airports in inconvenient out-of-town places. Doing it with railway stations seems perverse, losing one of the major advantages of rail over air. Will anyone really benefit in Sheffield, Nottingham or Derby?
Oh, erm, and what about the Nimbys? Can’t blame them for kicking up a fuss: they’re laying down a marker for compensation. But some of the commentators in the meeja (notably whinging MPs) are just beyond ridiculous.