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HS2 and ‘Tesco value’ viaducts

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Tesco value' look, 'Fortnum and Mason' price tag: HS1 viaduct just west of Borstal village

‘Tesco value’ look, ‘Fortnum and Mason’ price tag: HS1 viaduct just west of Borstal village. Source:, author: Penny Mayes

Today’s Times carries a story that CPRE is reconsidering its support for high speed rail, wrote Shaun Spiers (22 January 2014) on the Campaign’s blog.

This is true, though if we do change our line it will be a board decision[…] The reason is that is increasingly hard to see HS2 as any sort of green project.[…]

We hoped that HS2 would an exemplar – with outstanding design, beautiful viaducts, and plenty of tunnelling to avoid the destruction of homes or excessive damage to beautiful countryside.
And we saw it as an environmental project, as it was billed from the start. The Government promised to make rail the long distance travel mode of choice. HS2 was an alternative to new roads and runways, and had the potential to revive rural railways by relieving pressure on existing lines.

As for design and mitigation, we have had heard little progress on the design panel announced by Patrick McLoughlin in his CPRE lecture in November 2012. And the increasing focus on building the cheapest railway possible (a triumph of the anti-HS2 campaigners, though one they may end up regretting) reduces the chance of more tunnelling and increases the likelihood that we will see ‘Tesco Value Viaducts’ rather than things of beauty to be celebrated in years to come.

HS2 never was an environmental project. Although the government’s PR hype may have given Mr Spiers the impression that HS2 promised to ‘make rail the long distance travel mode of choice’ and an ‘alternative to new roads and runways’, the facts have always been clear: HS2 is a carbon intensive project, which would inflict massive damage on the rural environment — and on the built environment (especially in London). HS2’s effect on private car and lorry mileage could never be anything other than insignificant.

HS2 would divert tens of billions of pounds from road improvements and classic rail, resulting in

  • lower rail passenger journeys, and passenger-km, overall
  • more transport-related casualties
  • higher greenhouse gas emissions
  • more freight going by road.

On Britain’s railway, bad design and high costs go hand in hand. That has nothing to do with anti-HS2 campaigners. HS1 is a good example of architecture and engineering that looks like ‘Tesco value’, but which came with a ‘Fortnum and Mason’ price tag.

If the Great Central railway were reactivated between Leicester, Rugby, and London, in place of building HS2, the environmental impacts would be minimal, and the costs would be far lower. At places such as Brackley, where new-build structures would be required, they could be designed to be as distinctive as the Millau road viaduct.


Written by beleben

January 22, 2014 at 11:40 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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One Response

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  1. The P.M. wanted it built Quick and cheap.HS2 have said they want local people to help but when they did they ignored them.They spent a lot of money on sending letters to people telling them incorrectly they would be homeless,sent 2 people + land agent to someone who would be then as those two people had been sent north sent 2 more + land agent to duplicate what had already been said.Then they said compensation would be low as it comes from our taxes.They are getting well paid ,especially those at the top,and I have mentioned just a couple of errors.They also lost a large number of peoples submissions to the consultations and omitted data for the latest one.Noboby would trust them to put up a tent let alone build a railway.That goes for the Government too.

    Elaine Hancock

    January 23, 2014 at 10:56 pm

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