High Speed Rail Not Coming to Britain Fast Enough

High speed trains at St Pancras railway station, London, England, October 19, 2010

High speed trains at St Pancras railway station, London, England, October 19, 2010 (Matt Buck)

Great Britain, inventor of the railway and home country to Sir Isambard Brunel, is once again taking its time on a proposed high speed rail network, known as HS2 that is meant to connect London with the north of England.

Currently, Britain has one such high speed rail line, known unsurprisingly as High Speed 1, and it connects St Pancras International in London with the Channel tunnel. It was the first new mainline railway to be built in the United Kingdom for a century and as an added bonus it was finished on time, on budget and is surpassing its original forecasts for growth. With this precedent perhaps the rest of Britain’s high speed rail network may now emerge?

Despite £9 billion of recent upgrades, patronage of the West Coast Main Line is set to exceed capacity again by the 2020s. This is the only direct rail link between Manchester and London and an economic artery to the north of England. Unless a solution to the lack of capacity is found, the future growth of the north’s economy could be inhibited.

Rather than upgrade the West Coast Main Line again, a more effective long-term solution is to build a new, dedicated high speed rail network.

While the multibillion pound HS2 rail line is already confirmed from London to Birmingham, it is seen by many as hugely controversial for it will run through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. For this reason and the high costs involved, opponents say it is not worth building. However, recently there has been talk about a “second stage” running further north from Birmingham. This extension would take place in two branches leading to a Y shaped network, with one branch to Manchester and another to Leeds.

A better option would be to reverse the closing of the Great Central Main Line which ran from London through the Midlands to Sheffield and Manchester. If linked into high speed, it could carry both British and continental trains as the loading gauges are the same, thus allowing regional Eurostars to traverse the United Kingdom. Anyone like the sound of Nottingham to Brussels?

Such a high speed rail scheme could be expanded even into Scotland and servicing Britain’s major cities in the central part of the country.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look likely to happen. Disgruntled British rail users will more likely be stuck with cancelations, delays and upgrades and finally something that works but it would have been better if it had all been thought out properly.