Mark Bostock, a former ARUP consultant who advised on the Channel Tunnel rail link (now HS1), gave an interesting talk at the LSE today. He claims the government is proposing the wrong route for Britain’s second high speed rail. Lack of linkages with the national rail network and other transport modes (crucially air travel at the Heathrow international hub) means the potential economic benefits may never be realised, he says. A link with Heathrow, for example, could shift some of the short haul flights onto high speed rail, freeing up slots for medium and long haul travel, allowing the airport to go for business in emerging markets that currently they are losing to hubs with more space such as Amsterdam and Dubai (although I’m not sure how many short haul flights leave from Heathrow that could viably be switched to train). Not to mention easing economic imbalances by better connecting the rest of the country to opportunities – typical of the joined up way engineers see the world.
ARUP funded its own proposal for a (marginally) cheaper solution which links HS2 to Heathrow, Birmingham airport and through HS1 to Europe. He said Arup’s preferred option was supported by the conservatives in opposition, and now is supported by Labour in opposition. When in power, transport ministers come and go (at least five in the life of the HS2 proposal, the longest of which lasted 15 months) and politicians tend to go with the mandarins suggestions, he says. The Old Oak Common interchange appears to have been part of the HS2 proposals from the outset.