So, the UK government has granted the go-ahead for the first stage of the new HS2 high speed rail line. But it is facing stiff opposition from some serious forces against it on the grounds of economics, and environmental concerns.
I am not getting into a debate on those issues, I just want to try to highlight some of the benefits to England itself. As I now live in Japan, I am a regular rider of Japan’s famed Shinkansen (New trunk line) network, and am in a position to point out a few factors why this might be good for England.
A lot of people look to Europe to highlight the benefits of high speed rail, and they are mostly right. But our European neighbours offer a less than perfect example. France has a larger population, but a much lower population density than England, meaning they still have a bit of room to add in extra track easily.
If you want to look at a network that England could take inspiration from, look to Japan. Japan and England are very similar. Island nations, high density, and split by a line of hills running through the middle.
This means that the Japanese network has already worked out many issues people are worried about. The Shinkansen runs at high speeds through urban areas thanks to barriers designed to deflect sound upwards, and the newer “Bullet” trains look more like ducks as it has been found to be the most effective shape at lessening the impact of a shockwave.
Riding the Shinkansen is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. I ride the “Max Toki” service from Niigata to Tokyo. This service can move just over 1000 people at a time, in comfort, from Niigata to Tokyo at speeds of 150mph. Just to show the time savings, the distance from Niigata to Tokyo is about a third more than from Manchester to London, and it covers the distance slightly faster than Virgins Pendolino does the Manchester to London run!
So, what benefits will high speed rail bring to England? Well, it will help the economies of the cities it reaches outside London. Again, here in Japan, it is believed that the economy of Niigata is 15-25% larger than it would have been without the Shinkansen, over the life of the line linking Niigata to Tokyo.
Yes, it makes moving to London easier. But it also makes it easier for companies to move OUT of London to take advantage of cheaper rent elsewhere. Also, it allows business to simply do more. With HS2 cutting journey times from Manchester to London by an hour, that means you have an extra 2 hours to play with. The high speed line simply extends the reach of businesses.
Another benefit? If you want a day trip to London, then go for it! And you can still get home in good time, without having to worry about paying the silly prices that are charged for hotels in London!
Simply put, HS2 will, once it is all finished, will help accelerate the economy of England. It allows people to do more in more places. The direct impact will be hard to see, but if we take a Japanese view (the next 100 years, rather than the next 10!) then I foresee good things.
HS2 will allow more business to be conducted in London, and will almost allow the cities of Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester to combine if you will ,and compete more effectively with London!
However, I do find it deeply disappointing that the Government has been quite weak-kneed in only committing to linking Birmingham to London, with the links to Leeds and Manchester still up in the air. Birmingham will benefit from HS2, but nowhere near as much as the cities of Leeds and Manchester.
Of course, the government uses the argument of money and time, but it feels to me like a chef making a cake, but switching the butter for margarine out of a fear that it might help people put on weight.
And what of our friends to the north? Well, should Scotland gain its independence, that will help cut costs as England will not be under any kind of obligation morally, financially, or any other -ly, to help finance an extension of the line to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
It is amazing that the SNP are happy to fight for independence, but still want to be linked in to London. A city they blame for many of Scotland’s ills!