High Speed 2: London to Nottingham, the long way round

A green, two-carriage train on a railway line, with an old-style signal box to the right, on a sunny day with green trees on both sides.Earlier this week it was announced that the route for the proposed high-speed rail line from London to Manchester and Leeds, known as High Speed 2, had been released. The line is already projected to cut a swathe through the town and country from London to Birmingham, necessitating the destruction of homes and businesses around Euston before despoiling the pleasant countryside of the Chilterns and southern Midlands. It is now revealed that there will be two branches, one stopping at Crewe, Manchester Airport and Manchester city centre, and another to a place called Toton in Nottinghamshire, a shopping centre on the outskirts of Sheffield, and finally Leeds.

A brief look at a map reveals that Toton is a suburb of Nottingham; it is in between Long Buckby and Beeston and there is no station there now, but there are links to Nottingham, Derby, Loughborough and Leicester. It is a well-connected location, but it’s not a city centre and if they are going to place it in a suburb between Derby and Nottingham, it would make sense to build other stations in nearby suburbs, not all of which currently have stations as a look at a map of the area would confirm — perhaps they should be mainline stations, or perhaps an extension of the Nottingham tram system. This would, obviously, raise the cost of the scheme, but if the whole idea is getting commuters from Nottingham and Derby to London, a suburban stop with a connection to Nottingham city centre will not work. After all, people can already get a train from Nottingham city centre to London, and it takes a direct route via Leicester, Bedford and Luton airport.

Similarly, the stop outside Sheffield (not in Sheffield) is in between Sheffield and Rotherham, so although the lack of a central stop in Sheffield is offset by the added convenience for people in Rotherham (which is much further from London and thus has fewer London commuters than Nottingham or its suburbs), the new stop would have to be supplemented by fast public transport links not only to the centres of both, but to their various suburbs. The line takes a much more direct route north of Nottingham (mostly straight up the M1) than it takes from Nottingham to London (via the A42/M42 to near Birmingham Airport and then along the new route), and much more direct than the present Midland Main Line via Derby. However, one must also consider whether there is any great need for a whole new line from the east Midlands and south Yorkshire to London; there is already work to upgrade the Midland Mainline to allow 125mph speeds (the maximum the present stock is capable of), and a survey published only yesterday shows that customer satisfaction with the MML train operator, East Midlands Trains, is at a record high and has been improving year on year. Satisfaction is likely to go down when the highest-paying passengers are creamed off by HS2, and frequency of long-distance trains along the MML is likely to be reduced or fares increased as there are fewer passengers to pay for rolling stock hire, wages and fuel. The same is likely to be true on Cross Country services, as HS2 is planned to run northwards as well as southwards out of Birmingham.

However, the line is just such a big diversion - going from Nottingham to London via the eastern edge of Birmingham is miles out of your way. The existing line already allows a change of train at Bedford or Luton onto a local train that would take you to the City, south London, Gatwick airport and the South Coast, while the West Coast main line stops at Milton Keynes and/or Watford Junction, which also offers connections south of the Thames. The new line takes a round-about route to Euston, which only connects to the London Underground and only two lines at that (Kings Cross/St Pancras station is served by six underground lines, plus Thameslink and suburban trains to north London and parts of East Anglia). Besides the huge environmental cost, the money spent on this wasteful vanity project could surely be better spent on upgrading existing lines. We are a small, crowded island, and if we don’t have room for too many more refugees, we certainly do not have room for a third London-Birmingham line across prime farmland and at the expense of homes and businesses in London. It must be stopped.

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