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Simon Jenkins (Opinion, 21 July) still doesn’t understand what HS2 is about. It was perhaps foolish to call the project “High Speed 2”, so that many people think it’s about getting from London to points north more quickly. But its main raison d’être is increasing the capacity of the railways. When in the 1960s we ran out of capacity on the roads and built the M1 and M6, people didn’t see the reason for these as being able to get somewhere by car more quickly: it was understood that the roads were full. True, as with HS2, people didn’t want the new roads next to their houses. I travel to London fairly regularly on the west coast mainline (WCML). Unlike most passengers, I usually spend most of the journey looking out of the window rather than working or reading. South of Rugby it’s quite obvious that the line is very busy indeed, and I understand from the railway technical press that during the day there’s very little spare capacity (extra train paths) available for freight trains, for which there is a demand. Car drivers are aware when roads are full; but unless the train is late most rail passengers have no idea about the capacity of the line they’re travelling on.
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Alternatives to HS2 have been considered – reopening the Great Central Line, for instance, but there was a fuss about that as well – but it was concluded that the best value for money was to build a new high speed railway, which would also be a high capacity railway, so that existing fast passenger trains could be diverted on to it, creating more capacity for freight and commuter trains on the existing WCML. Do we wish to see ever increasing numbers of HGVs on our roads, or do we have an interest in moving goods around in a more environmentally efficient way?
This article first appeared on www.theguardian.com
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