HS2 Gains Momentum

Yesterday the HS2 gained momentum as MPs backed the  High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill with just 17 Conservatives and 11 Labour MPs voting against it. The HS2 is the proposed high speed line to connect London to Birmingham and branch off in a V shape to Leeds and Manchester. There was specualtion in recent weeks that Labour would withdraw its support for the scheme as budget estimates had risen from £32,7bn to £42.6bn. The future of the project is somewhat uncertain as it still has to pass to the House of Lords and the real crunch will happen next spring when MPs will have to pass a bill allowing government to seize land on to which to build the line.

Yesterday in the US it was announced that  JumpStartFund, a crowdfunding site that has decided to make Elon Musk’s 900mph hyperloop transit system a reality, has formed a company for the project called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc.. David Cameron could be forgiven for dreaming of a crowd-funded hyperloop high up off the ground and a project that fires the imagination and encourages people to dream more easily than the HS2 ever will. For a time the debate seems to focus mainly on whether business people work on trains or not. If they do then they presumably don’t need to get off them so fast. The focus now is on capacity, not speed.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, did not appear to support the project and said that “This thing isn’t going to cost £42 billion, my friends. The real costs going to be way north of that. Keep going till you reach £70 billion, and then keep going.”  Network Rail set up a study group with the London Borough of Camden, which opposed the scheme on the grounds that it would cause considerable disruption and upheaval in the borough. A report by the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) suggested that there are many advantages to high-speed rail for stimulating regeneration and growth if properly plannned. Simon Linnot, Chair of the ITC had this to say in the forword to the report:

What you will read demonstrates the distance that needs to be travelled to establish a common national understanding and purpose for a project which must be regarded as a fundamental cornerstone of an integrated infrastructure network. It needs to be linked not just to the Victorian railway that is our backbone but also to the international links provided by our airports and the roads that may feed it. The capacity and connectivity impacts of HSR could be profound, but only if due attention is given to investment in local transport, regeneration, skills and redevelopment. The national and the local should not be seen in opposition, and we call on national and local leaders to work together to use the opportunities provided by HSR to help regenerate our cities and regions.

By the time HS2 is ready will we still be working in the same way and using trains to go to work?  With rapidly changing technology it is really hard to forecast. This Horse Manure  parable from Peter Gordon’s Blog illustrates how even in days gone by there were similar problems with forecasting.

In 1898, delegates from across the globe gathered in New York City for the world’s first international urban planning conference. One topic dominated the discussion. It was not housing, land use, economic development, or infrastructure. The delegates were driven to desperation by horse manure.

The horse was no newcomer on the urban scene. But by the late 1800s, the problem of horse pollution had reached unprecedented heights. The growth in the horse population was outstripping even the rapid rise in the number of human city dwellers. American cities were drowning in horse manure and well as other unpleasant biproducts of the era’s predominant mode of transportation: urine, flies, congestion, carcasses, and traffic accidents. Widespread cruelty to horses was a form of environmental degradation as well.

The situation seemed dire. In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows. A public health and sanitation crisis of almost unimaginable dimensions loomed.

And no possible solution could be devised. After all, the horse had been the dominant mode of transportation for thousands of years. Horses were absolutely essential for the functioning of the 19th century city – for personal transportation, freight haulage and even mechanical power. Without horses, cities would quite literally starve.

All efforts to mitigate the problem were proving woefully inadequate. Stumped by the crisis, the urban planning conference declared its work fruitless and broke up in three days instead of the scheduled  ten.

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