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09/02/2013
HS2 remains a hard sell - even if Birmingham is main beneficiary


HS2 remains a hard sell - even if Birmingham is main beneficiary

8th February 2013

HS2

BIRMINGHAM may be the long term beneficiary of the HS2 rail project but the economic impact of the £32bn scheme is still a way off being determined, a city academic has said.

Dr Pat Hanlon, Transport Economist in the Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, said: "Who stands to gain most from HS2? It could well be Birmingham, with its position right at the heart of the eventual Y–shaped network.

"But would HS2 do much to help rebalance the UK economy overall? Or will it just reinforce London and the South East’s pre–eminence as the most economically active region? That’s a very difficult issue for the Government to consider.”

He said the impact was difficult to quantify because successive transport ministers had had little time to consider it in depth.

"Their tenure in post is usually very short, with no less than six ministers having come and gone in the past five years,” he said.

"Perhaps the most fundamental political problem is that the benefits of the proposal would be spread thinly across the population and wouldn’t begin to accrue until some time well into the future: 2026 in the case of the London–Birmingham section and 2032 for the Birmingham–Manchester and Birmingham–Leeds sections.”

He said part of the problem with such a critical piece of infrastructure was that the disbenefits – as he called them - of the scheme would start to be felt immediately or in the very near future.

These would intensely affect a relatively small number of people who happen to live close to the line and who would suffer environmental intrusion without any benefits because there would be no stations nearby.

This was an uncomfortable position for politicians to be in, especially when faced with such important decisions.

He said the experiences of other countries where high speed rail had been adopted may prove to be the only source of reference.

"To some it may seem strange that the UK, the country in which railways were invented, should have fallen so far behind other countries in the development of high speed rail,” he said.

"Even the United States, which has not traditionally embraced inter–urban public transport with much enthusiasm, is now ahead of us in this field.

"The original pioneer was Japan, where the 320-mile high speed Tokaido line between Tokyo and Osaka opened in 1964. That’s almost 50 years ago. The success of the Japanese Shinkansen lines, with the so–called ‘bullet’ trains, has been followed by similar developments in France, Germany and, quite recently China, as well as in about a dozen or so other countries. In Europe the TGV (Train ŕ Grande Vitesse) services pioneered by the French are now spreading throughout Germany, Italy, Sweden and Spain and are providing some stiff competition for intra–European air services.”

In France, he said a retrospective appraisal was conducted on all high speed lines.

"With one big exception, that of the link to the Channel Tunnel, the forecast benefits proved to be vindicated in each and every case. The case of the Channel Tunnel link, the counterpart of which on the English side is known as HS1, might have been exceptional because, unlike the other lines, it involved generating entirely new flows of rail traffic,” said Dr Hanlon.

"This point might be borne in mind, before associating the rather disappointing HS1 traffic figures with forecasts of likely HS2 traffic. In any case it would seem rather important that the two lines be linked together, so that they can easily feed traffic to each other.

"The HS2 line should also be linked to airports, not just Heathrow, but the airports at Birmingham and Manchester as well. The German example of ICE (InterCityExpress) trains offering airport express services between Frankfurt and Dusseldorf via Bonn and Cologne has been a highly successful one.”

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