Simon Calder: A rethink on the HS2 route would be wise

Comment

Australian railway engineers celebrated the new century by building 900 miles of new track across the Northern Territory in two years flat. In crowded, complicated Britain there is nothing high-speed about building a 21st-century high-speed line.

But by the mid-2020s Britain should have a piece of transport infrastructure of which to be proud. The land that gave railways to the world will regain some long-lost credibility, people will win time, and the hard-pressed West Coast Main Line will gain some respite.

All good? Sadly, not. The reason the Victorian railway builders were so successful was that they ran lines not just between big cities but via large towns. The chosen route steers away from existing population centres. Milton Keynes and Oxford are astride the main road and rail corridors between London and Birmingham. When HS2 ploughs through the Chilterns, they may be sidelined. Just ask the people of Maidstone, left high, dry and slow by HS1 to the Channel Tunnel. While looking again at the route will add more delay, it could prove time well spent.

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