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Part one of The Guardian's special two-week look at the multi-billion pound railway line
A Eurostar passes through North Downs tunnel and travels beneath the Pilgrims Way near Blue Bell Hill, Aylesford. This illustrates the typical alignment HS2 would adopt in a cutting. However, tunnels on HS2 would likely be two bore rather than single
WITH debate over the necessity of the £46.2 billion HS2 intensifying, The Guardian was invited by the company charged with its delivery to sample the railway line’s forerunner: HS1.
The line from Folkestone to London St Pancras allowed Eurostar services to travel at high speed to the capital, rather than lumbering over old points and infrastructure into a crowded Waterloo.
The case for HS1 began with a handshake firmly sealing the entente cordial 50 metres below the Channel in 1990.
In the 23 years since, it has since brought domestic high speed travel – and increased capacity – to Kent following HS1’s completion in 2007.
But whereas HS1 was a four-station 67-mile line into the empty shell of the preserved St Pancras, HS2 phase one and two will traverse 330 miles, with brand new stations at Manchester, Manchester Airport, Leeds, Sheffield, Toton, Birmingham and Old Oak Common, London.
Doubts persist over the line’s supposed £15 billion a year benefit to the UK economy, as well as arguments over connectivity, capacity and it’s worth to the regions.
Though it’s a larger undertaking, the man charged with chaperoning HS1 through Government explained that the problems HS2 had to be overcome were the same.
Bernard Gambrill started out as civil engineer in charge of the route, latterly in charge of consultation with local authorities seeking to oppose the proposal when it went before parliament.
For Bernard, the need for extra capacity was the greatest driving force. He pointed to the West Coast main Line, which is already running at capacity despite a £9 billion investment in 2007, and passenger journeys in Britain that have increased from 750 million in 1995/96 to 1.5 billion in 2012.
“It’s the same situation as HS1. In the south east there had already been investment into the existing lines: new signalling, longer trains, more power supplies. Once you’ve done that, the magic runs out and you’ve got to invest in a new line,” said Bernard.
“If you’re providing a new route then you might as well have the best quality in terms of speed and connectivity.
“What we sold HS1 on was that it would free up the existing railway for international freight trains, and more commuters into central London because we could augment the existing commuter service by offering domestic trains from St Pancras.
“The other thing that we were talking about was the reduction in gaseous emissions on the motorway through Kent.”
And what of the critics’ suggestion that suggestion that workforce migration to London because of faster connecting times?
“I think they’re completely wrong,” said Bernard. “Look at what happened in France: They connected the major city Lyon with the capital and found that Lyonnais businesses were able to compete in Paris because they could make an out and back journey and compete with Parisian rates.
“It made Lyon stronger and demonstrated that the peripheral towns and cities actually benefit greatly from having these connections.”
During the construction of HS1, Ashford in Kent was unique in requesting for HS1 to pass through their town.
Hitachi latterly built their engine maintenance depot in the town and Ashford has seen a far more rapid recovery from the recession than other nearby towns – which Ashfrord Borough Councillor Graham Galpin attributes to HS1.
The 1.8 per cent jobs growth nationally over the last three years can be compared to 3.6 per cent in Ashford, while house prices in the town have risen by 15 per cent in the last 12 months compared three per cent in the rest of Kent.
“Where we had been a declining market town, we are now at the forefront of people’s minds,” said clr Galpin.
“We’ve really got a growing town. Absolutley I put that down to HS1. It’s the biggest catalyst we have.”
“It would be true to say people had reservations about it. I don’t think people are particularly concerned about it these days. I think if you took it away there would be uproar.
“There is always local resistance. We’ve grabbed the nettle and gone for it, but it’s got to be a local decision. As far as we’re concerned we’re very happy with what’s happened here.
“You’re going to get people that travel outwards from the town. We know that and accept that, but the come back here and spend their money.
“Businesses value it enormously. The one question I never get asked is ‘what’s the point of HS1’?
The proposed Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 will run through Pickmere, Tabley, Mere, Millington, Rostherne, Ashley, Whatcroft, Lostock Gralam, Lostock Green and Lach Dennis.
It will also cut through Winsford and Middlewich.
Andrew Went is the head of route engineering for HS2 Ltd.
He answered questions submitted by Guardian readers raising concerns about HS2.
On concerns about HS2 crossing a Cheshire plain infamous for subsidence, Andrew pointed to a technique perfected by HS1 crossing marshland in Kent.
“We’ve had discussions with the owners of the salt mines and gas storage sites. We know their locations.
“If it’s bad ground or soft ground we put a viaduct across. Above ground it would just look like a regular line, but below ground there would be a viaduct structure.”
The viaducts will descend to a depth of 20 metres, 30 metres above the 50 metre depth of salt mines.
Answering concerns about the amount the degree to which vibrations would be felt by trains travelling in tunnels, Andrew said: “Tunnels cost 80-100 million pounds per kilometre.
"They are very expensive so we try to avoid them where possible. Tunnels are 22-30 metres below ground level, too low for any vibration to be felt.”
Readers also raised concerned about towns being severed from thoroughfares by HS2 embankments.
Andrew said: “No way do we want to severe communities. There would be access. Roads would be designed to go into the communities.
“Through process of design of that part of the route we would talk with councils and planners to ask what they want.”
Andrew added HS2 were even hoping to remedy existing problems in various parts of the country.
He pointed to the example of Mersham Primary School, Kent, where an existing railway line that ran directly adjacent to the school was placed in a tunnel as part of work for the neighbouring HS1.
“There are opportunities where we are going over roads where we can see if we can make them better – make improvements to what’s there and actually improve those communities.
“People at consultation will say, ‘can we do this or that with it?’, and that’s what consultation is about.
“It’s been proven in other stages of consultation that we’ve looked at concerns and we’ve moved things or changed them.
“There are opportunities to make things better and improve things. That has to be in open discussion.”
“We want people to come along to consultations. We want to understand people’s views. Their concerns, aspirations, positives, negatives – the lot.”
“It’s not a stop, it’s a continuous discussion with communities – what can we do for you in this area? How can we make it better? We’re always going to want to talk to the community and understand how we make it better.”
See www.hs2.org.uk for consultation dates.
Cheshire residents opposed to the construction of HS2 have joined forces to create a county-wide umbrella group.
Cheshire Against HS2 (CAHS2) was formed last week when nine action groups from across Cheshire and Staffordshire unified to create a stronger presence against HS2.
Localised action groups that now sit as part of the Cheshire-wide group are Mid Cheshire Against HS2, One Voice Against HS2 in Cheshire, HS2 Parish Council Action Group, Rixton with Glazebrook HS2 Action Group, Agden Broomedge Lymm East, Culcheth and District Rail Action Group, Warburton-Lymm District Action Group, Warrington Stop HS2 and Madeley HS2 Action Group.
Ewen Simpson, chair of CAHS2 and member of Mid Cheshire Against HS2, said: “The reason behind forming the Umbrella Group is that unity is strength.
“While we remain separate and merely local, our opponents can pick us off more easily.
“By coming together we can utilise the skills in one group that another group might lack for the benefit of all the action groups.
“Their local knowledge is also vital for the umbrella group.
“Working together allows us to pool resources.
“Our aims as a local action groups is replicated in the umbrella group – to concentrate all our efforts on defeating HS2.
“We do not believe that it will provide the economic benefits that its proponents claim so all of our efforts will be concentrated on persuading the politicians - for it is they who are the ultimate decision makers in relation HS2 – to abandon the project.”