There has been much talk about the need for the Birmingham to London high speed rail project (HS2) to be set in a wider context. Such a view is wise.
The difficulty, among other things, is when we say wider context how much wider do we mean? We could say that the link should be considered in the context of a European high speed rail network – that would be a move in the right direction.
What about setting HS2 within a wider rail context – looking at how each level of railway, from light and local to heavy goods and high speeds, fit together.
That might be too narrow. Perhaps adding all public transport into the mix could be good – as buses and trams are often important feeders into heavy rail.
Perhaps we should consider HS2 as part of our vision for greener living for the remainder of this century and beyond – how does it fit into that? If we are worried that HS2 might not be green enough for 2050 surely air travel would be much worse?
The wider we cast our net and the longer we look into the future the harder it is to be sure of any of our plans.
What I do know is that change is happening faster now than ever before. Between now and 2050 is forty years. Those of you who can remember 1970 – just cast your mind back and imagine the world of today: hand-held telephones more powerful than a main-frame computer; three dimensional printers printing aircraft parts; countries like Korea overtaking Europe in wealth per person (back then it was one of the poorest countries on Earth); and the artificial generation of body parts. The next forty years will make the last forty years look slow by comparison.
So let us not cast our net too widely or too far ahead otherwise we will do nothing.
There are two questions required to set the context. The first question is “what year will HS2 give a return on investment – if ever?”. That date is how far ahead we should look. The second question is “in the year that HS2 begins to earn a return how will people in Britain travel from place to place?”
If we imagine that in thirty years’ time everyone will be beaming from place to place then HS2 will not be worth considering but if we feel that transport in Britain will be similar to today, albeit with minor changes, then HS2 or something very similar is worthy of serious thought.