The fifth paragraph of Christian Wolmar's article (This is one big punt, 29 January) firmly hits the nail on the head. The proposed HS2 line will not alleviate the north-south divide by one iota; it will not
shower northern regions with manufacturing and employment prospects. It
will serve to promote cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield et al into becoming suburbs of London and the south-east. If the Treasury were to be relocated in, say Birmingham, the Bank of England moved to Leeds, the Ministry of Defence shifted to Manchester, the Department of Health to Newcastle etc – lock, stock and barrel, including the ministers and their
mandarins – then no doubt an improvement to the future of the northern
regions could be realised. The prosperity of a city and its surrounds is
closely linked to the residence of those who hold the levers of power
and are responsible for decision-making. Sadly those people will for
ever opt to reside in London and its prosperous regions. Occasionally
they might choose to travel on the HS2 route in order to deliver a pep
or propaganda talk to the locals of some provincial city, but that alone
is the only useful function of this white elephant.
The government's announcement on HS2 to Leeds and Manchester still
leaves many questions unanswered, as Christian Wolmar outlines. I very
much hope that the faith placed in its regeneration effects by the three
political parties will be borne out, though respected (and pro-rail)
academics like Professor John Tomaney question this. The impact on the
north's economy – whatever it might be – will not be felt for decades.
Many more projects such as extending rail electrification to cities and
towns such as Hull, Middlesbrough and Barrow would have a much more
immediate impact. So too would be a programme of rail reopenings in the
north. We're told by the pro-high-speed lobby that the issue is less
about speed and more about providing extra capacity as an alternative to
existing congested routes. But this is a very expensive solution, and
for a fraction of the cost we could reopen the former Peak mainline from
Manchester to Derby and upgrade the route to St Pancras. We also need
better east-west infrastructure, and current plans by Network Rail to
upgrade the Leeds-Huddersfield-Manchester route will not provide
capacity for expansion in the medium to long-term.
Professor Paul Salveson
Visiting professor in transport and logistics, University of Huddersfield
Christian Wolmar makes an important point when he states that "the
environmental case [for HS2] was fatally weakened by the realisation
that few high-speed train passengers would transfer from air". With
existing trains taking only two hours from Manchester to London, there
is no point in flying between Manchester and London unless you are
connecting with another flight. The implication is clear: we should be
establishing direct rail links between the Midlands and north of England
and mainland Europe, simply by using St Pancras rather than Euston as
the London terminus of HS2.
HS2 seems an expensive irrelevance to those of us living further north
than Leeds. Newcastle enjoys a current railway journey time of three
hours to London, and linking to HS2 by changing at Leeds would be much
less convenient and little, if any, quicker. Leeds is not on the east
coast mainline and the Leeds-York link is not built for speed. The
project looks like a prop for the continuing unsustainable growth of
London. Together with meeting the higher costs of providing services in
London, it flies in the face of the "market forces" which decide so much
else in our lives. If there is any money left over, could the
north-east have a dual-carriageway link to Scotland please?
Newcastle upon Tyne
The HS2 line seems to be designed for two invalid assumptions. First
that everybody wants to go to London, second that anybody wants to go to
Birmingham. While investment in high-speed railways is certainly
necessary, what's needed is inter-regional high-speed lines, not more
feeders into the capital. It does nothing for train overcrowding and
passenger convenience that there's hardly anywhere in the country that's
readily accessible from here in East Anglia without having to go
through London. And better east-west connections would be a boon in
other regions. A shame politicians can never see past one city.
It is claimed that HS2 will reduce the "north-south divide". I wonder
if support would increase dramatically if the work began at the termini
north of Birmingham and progressed towards London?
• Your long editorial on HS2 (29 January) does not contain a single word about the ravaging of some
of the most beautiful country in England. No, I don't live within sight
or sound of the proposed route, and it will have no effect on the value
of my property. But I'm afraid your priorities are not mine.
In the 19th century, Brunel converted a couple of hundred miles or so
of the Great Western Railway from broad gauge to standard gauge over a
single weekend. So why will it take us two decades to build a high-speed
rail link from London to Leeds and Manchester? Or are the government
harvesting the kudos for the decision, while leaving their successors to
pick up the bill?
In a world of instant communications, cloud computing, 3D printing and
electronic wallpaper, will business people really need faster trains in
20 years' time?
Dr Richard Turner
Harrogate, North Yorkshire