What is the point of HS2? What transport system does Derby need?

HS2A meeting in Derby on 4th December, called by Derby Climate Coalition, heard the pro’s and cons of a high speed rail network, HS2. There were speakers from TSSA,(Technical Standards and Safety Authority), Derby Climate Coalition, Derbyshire Green Party and the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives declined to attend. Labour was represented by the meeting’s Chair and by the key-note speaker, writer and broadcaster Christian Wolmar who is seeking the party’s mayoral nomination in London.

A transport specialist, Christian is in favour of increased rail investment, including high speed trains, but he is against HS2. He described this as: “an overpriced railway costing £50bn which is unlikely to bring about the promised regeneration of the North and, in fact, may have the opposite effect of boosting investment in an already overheated London.” [You can read more on http://www.christianwolmar.co.uk/ – including his damning economic analysis]

He pointed out that HS2 stations would be situated out of city centres so needing an inconvenient, largely car based, extra leg to the journey. The proposed station to serve the East Midlands is at Toton, between Nottingham and Derby, yet most people want stations in city centres. He doubted whether passengers would be happy to pay the premium cost of an HS2 ticket to save a few minutes on the journey and still have to take a long transfer to their destination. He said that the HS2 speed proposed here in the UK, up to 250mph, is considerably faster than comparative high speed trains in France and Japan. The service will therefore increase energy demand rather than lower it as we need to cut carbon emissions

TSSA is in favour of HS2. Their spokesman argued that Derby is ranked within the top ten UK cities in which to work and he wanted to improve upon this position. He felt that HS2 could bring engineer experts and specialists to Derby from London rather than the other way around. He was concerned about the impact of losing engineering jobs to local people if HS2 did not go ahead. He said you could increase the capacity of existing system by adding more carriages to existing services but we need to create more capacity than this could bring about. He did agree with Christian’s point that it is mad to have terminal stations that lead nowhere. People want through stations.

The Climate Coalition is opposed to HS2 arguing that the amount of CO2 that would be created in the making of the new network would take many years for the electric service to pay off. The group believes that there should be a major shift in our use of transport altogether e.g. live nearer our place of work, take holidays in the UK nearer to home etc.

The Liberal Democrats, as coalition partners are in favour of HS2 as is Labour – the party not sharing Christian Wolmar’s scepticism on the economics of the project.

John Youatt 6John Youatt, DPG’s convenor in Derbyshire Dales, gave a brief overview of the main reasons the Greens are against HS2 and made the case for alternative and sustainable development of the rail network.

Arguments against HS2 include:
• It won’t use English rolling stock – a kick in the teeth for English train-makers
• Doesn’t connect city to city or to existing lines
• Wrong place to start – will add to the ‘overheating’ of London and the SE
• Too fast
• Too expensive and too late
• Massive damage to landscape, wild life and people
• High carbon generation

Alternative investments include:
1. early investment in rail capacity – line improvements and electrification city to city, town to town, such as Grand Central; Liverpool to Hull; quadruple MML Leeds Sheffield to St Pancras
2. early investment in stations
3. early investment in rolling stock and new innovative engines with energy storage : replace diesel stock
4. access EU ‘converging regions’ budgets to boost infrastructure investment.

Views from the floor were fairly evenly divided, with opponents having a narrow lead. The view was expressed that the UK is a “small” country and we don’t need to travel at 250 mph between towns. Rather than copy the continental style of network, like the French or Chinese, where distances between cities is large, the UK should look at small country networks like the Swiss system which is much more of an integrated local network.

The meeting took the opportunity to look at other related issues such as, what sort of transport do we want? What is transport for? If it is for people to travel and to move products from A to B and if transport is a service, it should not be about making a profit. Who controls it? What sort of society do we want to build? All very fundamental questions that the Greens openly aim to answer but which the other parties prefer to avoid. The meeting was told that three quarters of our trains are run by the Germans, Dutch and French. So any profits made there go into Germany, France and the Netherlands rather than British coffers! This opened the question of public ownership and the provision of affordable travel, policies advocated by the Green Party

Earlier in the evening, our speaker, John Youatt, had been cut off before he had finished his input when his four minutes were up. He had sat down at high speed but switched on to his last slide, which remained on screen for the rest of the meeting. So everyone was left with this message:

“Only one Party has democratically adopted principles and policies which will not be abandoned by its leaders for short term “power”.

Nationalise railways

Only one Party has the intellectual rigour among its MEPs, MP and Councillors to persuade others to replace HS2 with eco-socialist arguments and save the planet and all its passengers… Join the Green Party“

Good one John!

Jean Macdonald
Member of Derbyshire Green Party

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