‘HS2 cancellation puts half a million trucks on British roads’
In the UK, the decision has been taken to scale back the HS2 high-speed rail project, and cancel everything except the London – Birmingham core route and a short branch to the East Midlands. That has significant negative impacts for rail freight development, environmental concerns, and for road congestion. That’s the summary of findings from freight carriers, revealed in the British press. The loss of the HS2 “Northern Leg”, which would have directly connected Manchester and relieved the West Coast Main Line, has raised concerns for future rail freight capacity.
Although designed to carry high-frequency, high-speed passenger services, HS2 as originally proposed, would have cleared capacity on the rest of the UK network for other services, including significantly more freight. However, according to research published in the UK newspaper The Independent, industry experts say the cancellation means that there will be a reduction in rail capacity, which could lead to an additional 500,000 road truck movements annually on British roads.
Redirecting funds seems counterintuitive
According to the press reports, the extra journeys figure has been calculated from the number of registered heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in the UK, and the additional journeys required to replace the anticipated capacity that would have been made available. It doesn’t necessarily take into account any stifled organic expansion of the rail freight sector. That is all abd news for the sector that has been touted as the one with the most to benefit from HS2: the rail freight sector.
Andy Bagnall, Chief Executive of Rail Partners, the body representing train operators from both the passenger and freight sectors, expressed his concerns regarding the impact of this decision. He highlighted that the consequences would be felt across generations, affecting the rail industry, its supply chain, passengers, and freight customers. Bagnall emphasised that redirecting funds from rail to road schemes seems counterintuitive in the context of efforts to promote more sustainable modes of transport.
Lost opportunity for low-carbon freight
The constrained rail freight sector is not necessarily news of a boon for road hauliers. Britain’s highways are already among the most congested in Europe, and there are serious concerns about the standard of maintenance on many roads, particularly the secondary routes that serve the ‘last mile’ of deliveries. Bagnall also noted that passengers and freight customers in regional cities (mainly in the north of England) will miss out on the full connectivity benefits that the northern section of HS2 would have provided between Manchester and Birmingham, as well as east and west between Hull and Liverpool.
An increase in the number of lorries on the roads, poses challenges for businesses seeking to decarbonise their supply chains and limit their reliance on road transport. In response to the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2b – the line to Manchester, Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), expressed disappointment. She highlighted that the cancellation would have a significant impact on the country’s rail network, limiting plans to enhance both passenger and freight services. The lost opportunity to build a low-carbon freight transport system is a concern, as is the effect on global trade, with rail playing a crucial role in moving goods to and from ports.
HS2 cancelling risks an even bigger price tag
Haviland emphasised that the cancellation of HS2’s further phases will prompt businesses and regional governments to reevaluate their strategic plans. She called on the government to provide detailed information on its new plans, including timelines and the allocation of funds for the proposed projects. She also urged a reevaluation of the planning system’s functionality to ensure that large-scale infrastructure projects can be carried out efficiently and effectively.
The decision to cancel the northern leg of HS2 has sparked a wave of concerns regarding its impact on rail freight capacity and the broader transportation network in the UK. The response from northern civic leaders has been every bit as angry as expected. All of them have echoed Andy Bagnall’s concerns, with the added worry that investment decisions will be impacted too. As stakeholders assess the implications, there is a call for transparent and comprehensive plans to mitigate potential disruptions. The spiralling cost of HS2 was given as the primary reason for its cancellation. Ironically, it may be that cancellation carries an even bigger price tag in the end.