This is a guest post by Voxopp.
In the early hours of 27 May a regular European sized freight train from DB Schenker Rail became the first freight train to travel on High Speed 1, the railway built for the Channel Tunnel. The container train traveled from Hams Hall in the Midlands to Novara in Northern Italy and was running on High Speed 1 to test the operation of a loaded freight train on this line. It was the first of five such loaded freight train trials that will take place on High Speed 1 before the end of June 2011.
Once the trials have been completed HS1 will become DB Schenker Rail’s connection between its pan European rail freight market and the UK. While freight has never been mentioned in connection with HS2, other than to dismiss the idea of mixed rail traffic during the day, there is little doubt that in the period between midnight and five in the morning when high-speed trains are not planned to run, the HS2 line too could be used to move freight between mainland Europe and the north of Britain.
The idea of building a new railway to carry freight along the old Great Central route is not a new one. Just ten years ago, there was a plan for a freight line running north/south, easing the burden on motorways and other roads, and helping to reduce CO2 emissions. Remarkably, the plan was opposed by MP for Runnymede and Weighbridge, and Shadow Minister for Health, Philip Hammond. Fighting hard in parliament on behalf of his constituents, he held exactly the same views as those who oppose HS2 today.
In a parliamentary question to Bob Ainsworth, the Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, in March 2001 Philip Hammond fiercely criticised:
- the questionable validity of the business case
- the use of a Hybrid Bill (“bypassing the proper processes of scrutiny that a Transport and Works Act application would have entailed”)
- the 180 degree turn made by the opposition government, after it took office, to implement the scheme it had previously been criticising
- the long-term property blight the project was causing along the route
- the environmentally damaging effect of the scheme, including the fact that it would pass through areas of outstanding natural beauty
- the enormous impact on “visual amenity” and the “generation of huge amounts of noise”
- the fact that no environmental impact assessment had been made
Did he really say all this? Yes, and more.
Now he has the dream of building a railway and his stance has swung through a full 180 degrees. Now he is fervently promoting an ultra high-speed railway carrying only a comparatively small number of passengers, in the context of the number of people who use Britain’s railways each day, between a few city centres. Now he intends to use a Hybrid Bill. Now he is not bothered by the lack of an environmental impact assessment. Now the countryside and farmland is just someone else’s “backyard”.
Now it is not his constituency. All change.