Train or Tyranny?
The activism against High Speed 2 (HS2 for short) is a cause that is very close to my family’s and my heart. My grandpa has even featured on a tv interview in the early stages of these protests, marching the top of Coombe Hill in protest of this tyrannical act, and attempt to forge a legacy by our government for their personal benefit. In even more recent times, Chris Packham’s petition was even dismissed despite over 100,000 signatures demanding that there should be reconsideration around HS2. HS2 is set to be the most ambitious single projects our government has invested in, which is estimated to cost the nation up to 107 billion pounds by its completion. To fully comprehend this monumental cost, we can compare it to the total cost of the NHS, in England, in 2019 which was 115 billion pounds highlighting the immense undertaking of this infrastructure really is. I just do not understand this at all, when presented with the climate emergency why are we still pumping billions into infrastructure that is not going to positively impact our environment and will render other attempts and plans futile.
My issue is not with trains, but this train in particular. I truly believe trains are crucial in our fight with climate change and the eminent climate catastrophe we are facing. After all, they are the most environmentally friendly form of transport, with around 80 per cent less emissions than cars, and have the potential to ship far greater numbers of people across the country, and the world. I would even go as far to say I am an avid fan of trains; they are great for both their ease and their potential to provide breath-taking views from the comfort of your window seat. When I travelled around Europe, my friend Dan and I saw some of the most incredible, charming, and magical views even from our standard economy class seats. While I love trains, I also understand the intense demand rush hour places on their infrastructure, and I am also fully aware the views from the underground services may not be on par with a romantic, steady train that meanders along the coast of lake Garda in the height of July. However, even on the busiest of trains, the most uncomfortable of seats (and floors), rainy platforms, and longest journeys I have forged memories that will stick with me forever. From being stranded at Marylebone at 2am, from exploring Ventimiglia during a change to racing through Milano Centrale Railway Station to make our change, there has always been a sense of adventure around using trains to explore our world.
Despite my real advocation for the need for trains, I cannot sit on the side lines quietly and allow for this project to tear up our country, slash through our heritage and decimate our ecosystems. This railway has been given the go ahead to slice through our nations already limited natural wilderness, ancient woodlands, and cherished countryside, which has caused the demolishing of 1740 buildings, which includes 888 homes, 985 businesses and 27 community facilities all for the saving of a mere 29 minutes to those who can afford this service. Activist group, StopHS2 have even highlighted HS2 Ltd has officially admitted that HS2 will increase emissions of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. It is predicted to produce 1,433,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the next 60 years. This is not right, a train is a key means of reducing our carbon footprint and obtaining our net zero goals but this train does not tick the boxes needed to reach this target.
I cannot trust BoJo’s (Boris Johnsons) sincerity when it comes to his 10-point plan, where he has stated his aims to cut our nations emissions. A plan that aims to tackle what is the greatest challenge we have ever faced, the climate crisis, has only been billed at £12 billion. How can I trust him? Afterall, he’s given the subtle nod to continue the construction of HS2 despite its evident detrimental impact on the environment. Actions have always spoken louder than words, and in this case, this governments actions have spoken far more normal. Even during a pandemic, workers have been allowed to continue to flaunt social distance rules, lockdowns and continue to work throughout these unprecedented times. This has continued to the process of destroying our natural habits and beautiful views.
While I am over the moon that we are finally starting to discuss the issues of climate, and seeing it take a greater role in political discourse, I am afraid that the HS2 is still making me weary to trust this governments plans. A plan that aims to dedicate 30,000 hectares to planting trees every year is great, but it really is not enough. What I insist we need is reflection on this topic. Instead of creating even bigger issues through the creation of new railway that only benefits a small sector of the population we need to renew our railway infrastructure, electrify our trains and make it more attractive to travel in this way. We could really do with nationalising our railways. Currently, trains are at the mercy of the free market, and are designed to maximise profit which has led to extortionate prices and bad services. I fully agree with Patrick Heardman, Heardman has highlighted we are now paying peak prices for off peak times, multiple tickets for one journey to get the cheapest deals and we are having to pay more to travel by trains than we would pay to buy a cheap car. Therefore, both price reform is needed, and renovation of existing railways needs to occur to make it cheaper and more attractive to take the train. The Office of Rail and Road has shown promise, they have made plans to invest 31 billion pounds into England and Wales, and 4 billion pounds into Scotland which is a far greater investment. This is centred around the needs of the passenger and aims to improve the performance of the railways. This is what I believe is needed, not a new railway that cuts time and creates distrust but a railway that make us want to embrace this historical form of transport and inevitably reduce our emissions.
Trains can be social hubs, obviously given our current predicament they are less so than usual, but they have the capacity to reduce our emissions, create memories and allow us to relax during our voyage. They do say, it is not about the destination, it is about the journey… Trains should be a crucial part in our trips but also in our fight with climate change. Trains should be improving out odds in the fight with climate change, not adding to the problem. Our trains are part of our national heritage and they should not be a scheme to install a governments personal legacy.