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HS2 won’t be operating its first trains until 2026

20 February, 2020

• BETTER connections between London and the rest of the UK will create major benefits to our economy and help boost regional growth too, once the links are operating across the north.

But I think the biggest error in the HS2 project (so far) was the decision to bring the line right into Euston, when a more obvious and less intrusive idea would have been to make the lines connect with Crossrail at, say, Heathrow.

I am sure many of the passengers from Birmingham and the north are not necessarily coming to London itself, they are instead heading to other parts of the south east, most notably one of the many London airports.

The new HS2 hub at Old Oak Common, will give that area links to Crossrail, main line rail services, Heathrow, and local London Underground, so perhaps they will syphon off some passengers.

It’s probably too late now to take Euston out of the system, but this debacle shows that we need joined-up thinking in all such major projects, so the fragmented nature of ownership of our rail system created by privatisation doesn’t help make this easy.

The French, whose state-owned rail company, SNCF, started working on a high-speed network over half a century ago. But that also took time to bring to reality, and it was not until 1981 that its first service started between Paris and Lyon.

It now connects France to neighbouring countries – either directly (Italy, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany) or through TGV-derivative networks linking France to Switzerland, to Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as to the UK (Eurostar).

So I am sure the French economy has benefited greatly. In 2007 SNCF itself generated profits of €1.1billion, driven largely by higher margins on the TGV network, and its impact on regional development in France has been similarly beneficial.

HS2 won’t be operating its first trains until 2026 and Phase 2 will not open until 2033. And just last week Eurostar advertised its new direct links to Amsterdam, a journey of 2 hours 20 minutes, about the same as it now takes to get to Birmingham from Euston.

Of course, with Brexit, perhaps this government doesn’t care about connections to Europe, so we can fall even further behind in the years ahead.



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