Full steam ahead for high speed rail, say 55% of Lib Dem members

by Stephen Tall on August 10, 2013

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Lib Dem members back HS2 by 55% to 31%

There are plans to build a new high speed rail link (called HS2) between London and Birmingham, and then on to Manchester and Leeds. This is currently expected to cost around £42 billion. Do you support or oppose these plans?

    55% – Support

    31% – Oppose

    13% – Don’t know

It’s six months since Lib Dem transport minister Norman Baker extolled the virtues of high-speed rail for LibDemVoice readers following his announcement of “the biggest investment in rail since the Victorian era”. I wasn’t impressed at the time and said so: I apologise for my lack of enthusiasm for HS2. It’s been unavoidably delayed owing to the lack of evidence. Since then, a succession of senior political figures have cast doubt on the plans, most recently Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable.

But I’m in a minority (31%) among Lib Dem members, with a clear majority (55%) supporting it. Here’s a selection of your comments:

Support not on the grounds of need for high speed rail but on the grounds of need for more rail capacity

It’s a vanity project – spend the money on ordinary lines and trains. Preferaby renationalise – East Coast is better since it was taken back.

Did support, but now oppose. Money could be better spent elsewhere. This will only suck business AWAY from Birmingham not TO Birmingham from London.

It’s basically a capacity issue, as the present network will not be able to cope with demand. The real question is why we didn’t take these decisions thirty years ago – ah yes, I remember, Margaret Thatcher had an irrational hatred of railways.

This expenditure simply cannot be afforded. Available funds should be used in repairing/upgrading existing infrastructure, e.g. Liverpool Street- Cambridge (West Anglia) Line.

I would support these plans were it £100 billion. This country needs to be able to get both passengers and goods into and out of europe by rain and the wider track on the european gauge is the only sensible way to do this.

I’d rather the money was invested in the regular lines, stations and (especially here in the NW) rolling stock. Who really NEEDS to get to Manchester 1/2 hr earlier?

I support new infrastructure projects but the economic case for this one has not been proven.

Have always been in favour but less sure now as costs rise

The HS2 should go all the way to Scotland, both Glasgow and Edinburgh

Most other large European Countries benefit from high speed rail. Our railway was built by the Victorians.

By the time it is built, if it ever gets built, the cost will be up in the £80 billions. Much better to strengthen infrastructure in the North right now! Electrify the lot.

It seems like a vanity project. Extra capacity could be provided by re-opening railways that were closed in the 1960s, such as the Great Central route from London to Manchester via Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. It would by-pass the congested West Midlands. The route was built in the 1890s to accommodate the wider continental trains in anticipation of a Channel tunnel. It was designed for high speeds, with gentle curves and no level crossings.

I want this money spent on our existing rail system – a massive electrification project over virtually the whole of the system, substantial lengthening of most trains, double, triple or quadruple tracking on many lines to improve capacity and reliability and the reopening of a carefully selected tranche of lines. Also through trains to the continent from further afield than just St. Pancras itself.

I want the state to spend a lot more on transport infrastructure, but HS2 has been put forward as the best way to expand HS rail, rather it being shown to be the best answer to a known problem. There are stronger arguments for the spending to go to other, smaller, projects.

I support the plans because we need additional capacity and it would be perverse not to build high-speed. However it does not amount to a regional development policy and links between cities in the north need urgent improvement – three hours from Sunderland to Manchester…?

Very much support. We should be building this line quicker and planning a wider network of high speed lines.

I used to support it but now I’m unsure given arguments that the money could be spent more effectively on other transport projects.

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  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.