From the Archives: High speed rail in Lille and Lyon

This article by Mike Geddes was originally published in 2013, but it continues to hold true.

HS2 Ltd claim that HSR has been a catalyst for regeneration and growth in Lille and Lyon. But these claims do not stand up to scrutiny.

A recent authoritative review of the international evidence[1] shows that in France it has been Paris, not provincial cities, which have gained most from high speed rail.

In Lille, the impact of high speed rail in regenerating central Lille has been dwarfed by massive public regeneration funding. This, not HSR, has been the primary catalyst for growth. Moreover, the wider regional impact of the concentration of growth in central Lille has been to accelerate inequalities between Lille and other nearby towns. Further, between 1999 and 2009, the rate of unemployment in Lille actually increased in relation to the rest of France[2].

Turning to Lyon, the construction of the TGV line actually led to the relocation of business headquarters from Lyon to Paris, and journeys to Paris from Lyon have increased far more than those originating in Paris. A is the case in Lille, unemployment in the Lyon departement has increased more than in France as a whole.

The moral is that major investment alongside provincial HSR stations will of course bring some jobs, though in many cases these will not be new jobs but transfers from elsewhere. But regeneration investment will do this whether or not it is alongside a high speed rail station. Concentrating regeneration investment alongside HSR stations will both increase the pull of the capital city vis-a-vis provincial cities, and also increase disparities between core provincial cities and surrounding towns.

That’s the French lesson for HS2.

[1]Tomaney J, The local and regional impacts of High Speed Rail in the UK: A review of the evidence. Paper submitted to Transport Select Committee Inquiry into HS2, 2011.

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