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HS2 won’t reduce carbon this century

One of the arguments in favour of high speed rail is that because of modal shift, it can reduce carbon emissions. However, just because some high speed rail schemes can reduce carbon, that does not mean that every high speed rail project will cut carbon over any sensible timescale. And unfortunately for people who are concerned about carbon emissions, HS2 will still have caused increased carbon emissions by 2086.

Although HS2 Ltd produced a carbon fact sheet in November, it needs careful reading to ferret out this information. It is hidden in a sentence in the final paragraph of the the fact sheet.

“Over the construction and the first 60 years of operation of HS2, it is likely that carbon savings – that come about as people switch from other transport modes with higher carbon emissions, and as released capacity on existing railways is taken up by new passenger and freight services at the expense of road vehicles – will be less than the carbon emissions.”

Just to repeat with the relevant information emphasised:

Over the construction and the first 60 years of operation of HS2, it is likely that carbon savings – that come about as people switch from other transport modes with higher carbon emissions, and as released capacity on existing railways is taken up by new passenger and freight services at the expense of road vehicles – will be less than the carbon emissions.

No doubt some people will try and argue that it’s the whole 120 year design lifespan of HS2 that matters.  But that will take us into the middle of the next century.  If HS2 opened in 2026 as the DfT plans, that’s looking ahead to around 2146 (give or take a couple of years).

According to HS2 Ltd than, for HS2 to reduce carbon emissions depends on it being better than the alternatives between 2086 and 2146!

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