As the debate over HS2 plan hots up the Guardian looks back at HS1 benefits (From Knutsford Guardian)
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As the debate over HS2 plan hots up the Guardian looks back at HS1 benefits
A Eurostar passes through the North Downs tunnel. This illustrates the typical alignment HS2 would adopt in a cutting. However, tunnels on HS2 would likely be two-bore rather than a wider, single bore.
WITH debate over the necessity of the £46.2 billion HS2 intensifying, the Guardian was invited by the company charged with its delivery to sample the railway line’s forerunner: HS1.
The line from Folkestone to London St Pancras allowed Eurostar services to travel at high speed to the capital rather than lumbering over old points and infrastructure into a crowded Waterloo.
The case for HS1 began with a handshake firmly sealing the entente cordial 50 metres below the Channel in 1990.
In the 23 years since it has since brought domestic high speed travel – and increased capacity – to Kent following HS1’s completion in 2007.
But whereas HS1 was a four-station 67-mile line into the empty shell of the preserved St Pancras, HS2 phase one and two will cross 330 miles, with new stations at Manchester, Manchester Airport, Leeds, Sheffield, Toton, Birmingham and Old Oak Common, London.
Doubts persist over the line’s supposed £15 billion a year benefit to the UK economy, as well as arguments over connectivity, capacity and its worth to the regions.
Though it’s a larger undertaking, the man charged with chaperoning HS1 through Government explained the problems HS2 had to overcome were the same.
Bernard Gambrill started out as the civil engineer in charge of the route, latterly in charge of consultation with local authorities seeking to oppose the proposal when it went before parliament.
For Bernard, the need for extra capacity was the greatest driving force.
He pointed to the West Coast Main Line, which is already running at capacity despite a £9 billion investment in 2007, and passenger journeys in Britain which have increased from 750 million in 1995/96 to 1.5 billion in 2012.
Bernard said: “It’s the same situation as HS1. In the south east there had already been investment into the existing lines: new signalling, longer trains, more power supplies. Once you’ve done that, the magic runs out and you’ve got to invest in a new line.
“If you’re providing a new route you might as well have the best quality in terms of speed and connectivity.
“What we sold HS1 on was that it would free up the existing railway for international freight trains, and more commuters into central London because we could augment the existing commuter service by offering domestic trains from St Pancras.
“The other thing we were talking about was the reduction in gaseous emissions on the motorway through Kent.”
What of the critics’ suggestion that workforces could migrate to London because of faster connecting times?
“I think they’re completely wrong,” said Bernard.
“Look at what happened in France.
“They connected the major city Lyon with the capital and found that Lyonnais businesses were able to compete in Paris because they could make an out and back journey and compete with Parisian rates.
“It made Lyon stronger and demonstrated that the peripheral towns and cities actually benefit greatly from having these connections.”
The second part of Matthew’s feature will appear in next week’s Guardian and online.
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