Pros and Cons of High Speed Rail HS2

HS2 is a proposed new railway line linking London Euston to Birmingham, and in the second phase – Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and eventually Scotland.

Supporters of high-speed rail argue it is necessary to meet the UK’s rapidly growing demand for travel. High-speed rail will provide the greenest, safest and most efficient form of transport. The investment will provide a major boost to business and the economy; the faster rail links will help reduce the north-south divide and overcome the externalities of car use.

Opponents of high-speed rail argue that it is primarily an unnecessary project that can’t be justified given the huge cost involved; critics argue that there are much more pressing priorities such as small-scale road and rail projects which help to deal with smaller bottlenecks. Also, opponents are often motivated by the impact of the new railway on the environment.

Pros of High-Speed Rail

  1. The road system is becoming crowded with limited ability to keep increasing capacity. Offering high-speed rail will encourage more people to travel by train relieving gridlock in city centres. Therefore, it is not just rail travellers who will benefit, but those who gain from lower congestion on the roads.
  2. Investment will provide jobs for those involved in building and running the new HS2
  3. Journey times from London to Birmingham will be less than one hour. There will also be quick rail links to Manchester and Leeds.
  4. Despite objections, HS1 has proved successful. Demand for HS1 rail travel to the Continent has proved to meet expectations; this has enabled more people to easily travel to Europe.
  5. The £17bn will be spread out over 15-20 years. Therefore we can afford it.
  6. The £1- £2bn annual capital investment will help create jobs, stimulate economic activity and give a decent rate of return.
  7. High-speed rail will take travel away from short distance air-travel, leaving a lower carbon footprint.
  8. Environmental impact will be mitigated by ‘green tunnels’ and planting of trees.
  9. Empirical results show that increased train frequency can have significant external benefits in terms of lower pollution, fewer road accidents and drops in infant mortality.Figure 1. The environmental benefits of railroads: Effect of 10% increase in rail frequency
    benefits-trainsSource: VOX – Can railways curb traffic externalities?
  10. Trains have a better safety record than the roads. Passenger death rates (2008)
  • By car 1.9 per billion Km
  • By train 0.3 per billion Km

Cons of HS2

  • There are other alternatives such as increasing train length on existing routes.
  • HS2 may only benefit a small section of the population who use trains between major cities.
  • Benefits of improved speed is debatable given that many people can now work on laptops away from the office.
  • Environmental costs of building new line through the Chilterns.
  • In an era of budget cuts, spending on train service is not the highest priority.
  • Forecasts for passenger numbers are uncertain, no guarantee the demand will be there.
  • Rather than reduce north-south divide, it may encourage people to live further away from London and use HS2 and fast commute to London.
  • Rail-future a campaigning group for rail travel criticised the need for ultra high speed trains, there may be a bigger overall benefit from running slightly slower trains over different routes. Railfuture


It is not often Britain attempts an ambitious investment project. The political system makes expensive, forward thinking investment projects unlikely to return much political capital. Elections aren’t won by promising improved transport links for the next decade.  True, we like to grumble at the inadequate state of current transport links, but to actually invest the necessary money and time is another matter.

HS2 will cost £32 billion to build, generate £27 billion in fares and provide £44 billion of economic benefits. There is an economic case for HS2 but there are also good economic cases for other infrastructure investment, which is less eye-catching but capable of delivering benefits in a different way.

Due to its disruptive nature, local residents in the path of the railway are strongly opposed.


By on March 1st, 2016

6 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of High Speed Rail HS2

  1. I personally think that the high speed rail 2 will be a success due to the factors you have mentioned however, I have learned that one of the aims that they are trying to achieve by this is dispersing the current air travel customers from heathrow and send them to Birmingham and if they succedd then congrats but if not then they migh even have all of Birminghams air travel customers in Heathrow. could be added to Cons of HS2 🙂

  2. Instead of HS2, which to me comes across as a reactionary gimmick designed to make it look like we’re keeping tabs with France, China, Japan and Germany, why not improve current infrastructure as mentioned in the article?

    Perhaps introduce new rolling stock on WCML with more and longer carriages, reduce number of operators on high speed section of track on WCML, which means increased frequency of trains, maybe increase operating speed to something like 170mph (just a random figure). These changes, whilst they’re not without their caveats can be made in shorter time and at a lower overall cost. Consider that by the time HS2 actually gets completed, the need for capacity will have increased again. In fact, Will HS2 even be ready by 2033?

    1. The WCML rolling stock is fairly modern, Class 390 trains only around 15 years old. We have been trying to continually modernise the rolling stock and adapt trains for the Victorian infrastructure. For example, look at the experimental tilting train we had back in the 70s/80s. The current WCML rolling stock is also adapted to travel fast on that route. I don’t know if they can safely achieve higher speeds with the old infrastructure. I think in the long run new infrastructure would pay off more where the tracks are built for higher speeds.

      Also to the arguement about just having longer trains, aren’t the trains already lengthened to their limit?

  3. HS2 is a classic example of “old” economic thinking. When we are facing species extinctions and a new awareness of the immense value of Nature to our very survival, some of us plan to tear a trench though valuable bio-diverse environments, when substantial investment in the existing rail infrasructure could address existing capacity problems. HS2 is the last gasp of dinosaur, pre-environmental awareness economics. Ditch it.

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