The value of a national approach to HS2

July 06, 2021

Progress continues to be made on the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link between Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and London. For many years, the London-focused development has raised concerns for a number of reasons. Writing for Transportation Professional magazine, Adrian Marsh, Director of RSK Environment, discusses why instead of focusing on just the capital, the new HS2 service needs to connect Britain as a whole.

Describing the Y-shaped plan for the network, Adrian highlights that the traditional cost–benefit analysis of the project has “built-in bias” towards the more affluent areas of the country. Such a strategy offers “no unifying vision” for an integrated public transport network based around high-speed, long-distance rail services between sustainable multimodal local transport hubs. Now, however, 20 years since the project was first conceived, Adrian emphasises that the scheme has the opportunity to take a new direction and approach. The development’s planning pillars, previously focused on “predict and provide” and modal segregation, now look towards a “low carbon, modal integration and levelling up” framework that offers the potential to change the narrative of HS2.

With such significant investment already made in the project, Adrian notes that it is important now to ensure that the new network offers genuine benefits. As the HS2 services are already expected to extend north to cities such as Glasgow and Liverpool, Adrian sees value in transforming the Y into an X. A network that links Swansea, Cardiff and south-western England via upgraded existing infrastructure connecting Bristol and Cheltenham to HS2 at Birmingham will offer increased scope for levelling up. Reaching all corners of the nation with an “efficient, high-speed rail service” will provide benefits to areas beyond London. Focus will be shifted away from the areas that often receive big value investment towards those that are in need of increased services and infrastructure.

As Adrian concludes, the most important change in approach of the HS2 project would be that “the centre of gravity of our high speed network” will shift to “the centre of Britain”. This will offer improved opportunities to level up and a potentially valuable service for the whole country.

Members of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) can read Adrian’s article in full in Transportation Professional magazine.