What’s Going On Here?

Boris Johnson has called a meeting this week to decide whether the ongoing and controversial ‘HS2’ high speed rail project connecting London to Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds should go ahead or be scrapped. There is some serious opposition, but what’s it all about?

What Does This Mean?

The first phase was on track (sorry…) to operate by 2026 but it is now looking like we won’t see any HS2 trains until 2028-2031. The project is set to cost £106 billion, yet opposition isn’t just based on the substantial financials!

One of the first pros of the project claimed it would have a positive environmental impact by enabling electric trains and lessening demand for air and road travel, yet opposers to the project have raised serious concerns over the validity of this claim.

So what are the environmental costs?

Some argue HS2 could actually increase emissions because more people might drive to the parkway stations and better city to city connections could increase international flights.

Even over its lifetime, the construction and operation of HS2 is estimated to emit the up to 1.49m tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 1.18% of Britain’s annual transport emissions! This might sound insignificant but it’s definitely a step in the wrong direction.

Plus, it’s not just people that have been relocated. The Wildlife Trust estimates that more than 350 wildlife sites like nature reserves, ancient woodlands (which make up just 2% of the UK), Sites of Special Scientific Interest and wetlands would be threatened. This puts rare species at risk, such as the small blue butterfly and the long-eared owl, not to mention the estimated 20,000 mammals, reptiles and amphibians that could be killed on the line every year during HS2 operation.

Why Should We Care?

Trains are better than road and air travel though, right?

Yes! Especially sleeper trains that replace short-haul flights (check out last week’s article!). But…whilst HS2 calculated that their carbon emissions would be offset by increasing the capacity of trains and encouraging people to travel on HS2 instead of driving or flying – it’s worth noting that only 1-4% of passengers are estimated to be those that would have flown or driven.

Emissions from the construction phase could be reduced by 30% with the use of low-carbon construction equipment,but total emissions will only decrease if wider policies are both introduced to support the decarbonisation of electricity and to reduce car and air travel.

Be Curious!

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