High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) is a proposed rail link between London, Manchester and Leeds with further, later, extensions to Glasgow and Edinburgh. If mentioned at all by the last or present Government, it is put forward as an entirely British idea, but it is not. And if there are complaints about the proposed rail line, no matter how many times the Government says it will ‘re-consider’ – nothing will be done. Because nothing can be done.
The whole project is down to the Government in Brussels
On taking office, the present coalition Government announced that they had been examining the case for high speed rail in Britain since 2009, when the then Labour government established HS2 Ltd., the company responsible for overseeing its development. Few Members of Parliament know that the HS2 is not actually British policy nor understand how the EU’s transport policies affect those in Britain.
Nor do they realise (as do their governments) just how long the HS2 policy has been in place.
A Trans-European Railway (TEN-R)
The High Speed Rail line was defined by EU Council Directive 96/48/EC as far back as 23 July 1996. A Trans-European Union Railway (TEN-R) was intended to cover the whole of the EU and HS2 was the main part of its High Speed design in Britain as was an ‘HS3’. A new rail link between Manchester and Leeds was announced on 23 June 2014 by the Chancellor George Osborne. But this, too (along with other HS Rail Lines) was conceived by the European Union and had little to do with George Osborne.
A Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T)
A Trans-European Rail Network (TEN-R) is only part of a larger project because an entire Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) is also planned. Its aim is to establish a series of interconnected European transport networks and these were laid down under Decision No. 1692/96/EC on 23 July 1996 with amendments to the scheme being made later. Along with energy and telecommunications, it is intended to cover a Trans-European Road Network, Inland Waterway and Seaport Network, Trans-European Airports Network and – added by Decision No. 884/2004/EC in September 2001 – a ‘Motorways of the Sea’. The whole project was originally outlined in the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1958 which established the European Economic Community that led to the current European Union.
On 1 January, 2014, the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) was put in charge of all the transport projects – air, rail, road and waterways and maritime, etc… – and all EU Member States are now involved in this Agency.
So, the Trans-European Transport Network was designed for a traveller to move swiftly and smoothly from one end of the European Union to the other whether they are using road, rail, air, waterway or sea transport. From the UK’s point of view, it is intended that HS2 will significantly reduce travel times between the UK’s major cities and provide international rail connections. Why should there be any objections?
There are at least two, those of finance and sovereignty.
Increase of Finance, Loss of Sovereignty
At the time the TENs were outlined in the Treaty of Rome, the original Trans-European Network Member States were not obliged to upgrade or complete existing infrastructure. But this changed when such obligations were included in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.
In 2011 the European Commission put forward two more proposals which significantly overhauled the operation of TEN-T. The first moved the programme from a voluntary to a compulsory basis (i.e. Member States would be forced to introduce transport network changes specified in an EU Regulation). For this, the UK Government estimates it would cost between £64 and £137 billion. The second proposal was for a Connecting Europe Facility to put the budget for TEN-T on a multi-year footing and this would obviously see a significant increase to the budget.
In June 2013, the Transport Minister announced that the original budget for the first phase of the HS2 had risen by nearly £10bn to more than £40 billion, but the Institute of Economic Affairs suggested that this would rise to £80 billion. However, the Transport Minister countered this by saying that building the HS2 could add more than £4bn to the economy before opening, would provide around £50bn worth of economic benefits once it was up and running, would create and support at least 100,000 jobs and underpin a further 400,000 jobs.
On the other hand, there are questions as to whether the new High Speed Rail would be worth the cost of building and running. The main reason given by the Government is that it would cut the travel time to between London and the main cities of the Midlands and the North by an estimated one hour. But this expected time-saving has failed to take into account a new generation of intercity trains on the East Coast Main Line which will enter service in 2019. This fleet of Hitachi trains will cost a mere 1.2 billion on existing lines and travel at 140 mph.
However, following the European Commission’s proposals of 2011, Britain has no choice but to build the HS2 and then to bear the costs. Along with all the other Trans-European Networks, it is no longer a voluntary programme, but is obligatory.
This further loss of sovereignty within the European Union could explain why the UK Government is unwilling to admit that the HS2 plan is not theirs at all and that there is very little they can do to even alter the routes.