What is HS2?

High Speed 2 (‘HS2’) is the second, and arguably the most controversial, stage of the proposed high-speed railway link between Kent in the south of England to central Scotland.

The first stage, being HS1 is the UK’s existing high speed railway linking London ( from St. Pancras International station ) with Kent, the Channel Tunnel and Europe was launched in 2009. HS1 was a response to the growing issue of congestion and delay that existed on the railway services between London and the Channel Tunnel ( which opened in 1994). The congestion issue with the Eurostar service was due to the fact that until the launching of HS1, the euro star trains were limited to a maximum speed of 100mph and were hindered by having to share the antiquated Victorian railway lines with the existing railway services.

HS1 has been hailed as a success with an estimated 25m passenger journeys ( figures from 2012) and a marked improvement in the domestic services in Kent with for example, the journey time from London to Ashford being reduced from 63 minutes to 37 minutes; to Canterbury down to 61 minutes from 102 minutes.

The development and launching of HS1 has also brought many other improvements to the areas it serves, such development ( 15,000 new homes) and increased employment ( estimated 70,000.00 new jobs).

Despite the success of HS1 the UK lags far behind countries such as France and Germany in Europe and China and Japan. Japans first high speed railway line, running at 130mph, opened in 1964 with the ‘bullet train’ between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka and is still the most used railway route in the world with current speeds topping 170mph. Europe were not far behind with the French high speed service launching in 1967 and Germany in 1977 with speeds of 125mph. Although the high speed inter-city 125 trains were introduced in the UK in 1977, their effectiveness was greatly impaired by the antiquated railway infrastructure and were unable to run at their full speed of 125mph for a large proportion of their journey.

In 1981, the French upped the competition with the introduction of their high speed service between Paris and Lyon operating at speeds of up to 168 mph; Germany followed ten years later with the 203mph high speed service between Hanover and Wurzburg, closely followed by Spain, Belguim and the Netherlands.

Since 1992, the UK has fallen behind with huge consequences just not in trade and commerce, but also socially. The lack of a high speed link between the north of the UK and Europe has meant that economic growth has become more and more concentrated in the South and especially the South East sucking the economic life out of the rest of the UK.

HS2, is part of the Governments solution to the growing disparity between the economic growth in the South East and the rest of the UK. Plans for HS2 were initially introduced in 2009 by the Labour government building on the success of HS1, with the ‘Phase One’ being proposed as running between London and Birmingham and the West Midlands. ‘Phase Two’ is planned to run between Birmingham and Manchester with further links to Leeds and further north via the existing East and West Coast main lines. January 2013 saw the publishing of the government’s initial proposed route for Phase Two north from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds with further consultations ongoing.

Based on technology already shown to be a success in France and Germany, the specifications differ from the existing conventional UK railway infrastructure resulting in the need for the construction of totally new lines and routes as opposed to merely upgrading what is already in place. The need for totally new lines, routes and infrastructure is what has made HS2 arguably the most controversial national infrastructure proposal for at least the last century. Unlike the last major infrastructure project, the Channel Tunnel in the 1980s and 1990s, HS2 threatens to alter swathes of UK countryside and uproot whole communities and as such has met with a considerable amount of opposition.

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