Letters: A slower HS2 makes sense

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 12 September, 2013

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The KPMG report, presented as a government riposte to the campaign opposed to HS2, concentrates on the benefits derived from increased capacity, rather than the benefit of faster travel. The Government itself is also shifting the thrust of its argument in this direction.

The major factor driving the astronomic cost of the project is speed. The route is designed to permit speeds in excess of 200mph. The cost of the required route has ballooned as extra tunnelling has been conceded to assuage the environmental concerns.

If absolute speed is taken out of the equation, the new route could follow a far more environmentally friendly route alongside the existing motorway network. In this scenario, the enhanced capacity would be economically defensible.

A complete rethink is required. It might be more pedestrian than politicians would prefer for their “legacy”, but would be economically and environmentally far more logical.

David Bracey

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire


If HS2 really is to be a “heart bypass for the clogged arteries of the transport system”, acknowledging that the previous emphasis on speed alone was mistaken, then it should be redesigned to avoid the many sites of special scientific interest and nature reserves it is currently set to destroy, and have additional stations to benefit the regions it currently is to speed through without stopping.

It’s pointless having a heart bypass operation which at the same time destroys the lungs and cuts off the blood flow to vital parts of the body.

Giles du Boulay

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire


Chris Mills (letter, 4 September) has a point in suggesting that our railways don’t carry sufficient freight, but he looks in the wrong direction for a model.

North American railways carry about 40 per cent of their nations’ freight, compared with 17 per cent in mainland Europe and about 8 per cent in the UK. There are some good reasons for the difference, but the use of railways for freight gives a much bigger environmental benefit than using them for passengers, and we should be looking for ways to increase freight on rail in Britain.

In 2003 a company called Central Railway made what appeared to be a good proposal to create a new rail freight line between the Channel Tunnel and the North of England, reusing much of the old Great Central alignment and making much less impact on the Chilterns (among other places) than HS2.

It was planned to relieve capacity pressure on the West Coast Main Line. The proposal was dismissed by the Department for Transport after heavy lobbying by (among others) Chiltern Railways, which didn’t seem to like the idea that the new line would share its corridor through High Wycombe and Beaconsfield.    

Interestingly, the one thing that HS2 won’t be any good for is freight. The HS2 team will tell you that this doesn’t matter because extra capacity for freight will be released on the West Coast line, but any railway operator can tell you that mixing freight and passenger services on the same route is the worst possible thing to do for line capacity.

Is it time to abandon HS2 and think again about the Central Railway proposal or something like it?

Derek Chapman

Warnford, Hampshire


What do China, Spain, Japan, France, Italy and Germany have in common?  Answer: they all have more than 1,000 kilometres of high-speed rail, some of them much more. I’ve listed them in descending order of functioning high speed rail. And all of them are building yet more. Britain?  Well, we have 113km, and so far we’re not building any more.

Do they know something we don’t?

Sean Maffett

Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire


Old habits of empire still with us

In his broad-sweep article “An elegy to Western colonialism” (11 September) Andreas Whittam Smith makes a strange error in stating that “Britain wound down its empire without serious incident after the Second World War . . . The British declined to mount rearguard actions.’

Tell that to the peoples of the Middle East, South-east Asia and Africa. Has he not been following the continuing revelations of British atrocities in Kenya in the 1950s?

His overall analysis of western colonialism and imperialism is far too simple, as this phenomenon encompassed a variety of different forms, including overseas settler colonies, outright annexation of territory, “informal imperialism” based on dominant trading and investment arrangements, and punitive expeditions. 

It could be argued that it is only the formal annexation and settlement of independent territories that has ended since the Second World War, with the growth of powerful nationalist movements, the influence of international opinion, and changed domestic priorities.

Punitive expeditions such as that envisaged by the United States in Syria have certainly not ended. What is different, surely, is the involvement of representative institutions and public opinion prior to such interventions in recent times. It is too early to say whether this will last.

Dr Philip Woods

London W5


One name for  a new family

If Rosie Millard (Voices, 10 September) chooses to stick with her birth name – in all probability her father’s name – that’s her choice, but it gives her no right to be “disappointed” in a woman who decides instead to share the name of the man with whom she chooses to spend the rest of her life.

Far from giving up one’s identity, it represents a deliberate choice to create a new household, a new family, who will live together under one name. I don’t see anything “radical” about sticking to the name you inherited from your dad.

Marjorie Clarke

Stoke Gabriel, Devon


Rosie Millard seems to assume that women feel obliged to change their names on marriage. It is often a clear choice.

I wanted my family name to be the same for all members of my family, whether mine or my husband’s. I believe that a sense of family identity is important, especially to children growing up in a divided world.

I have many friends who have given their children a double-barrelled name to achieve the same effect, although I pity the next generation who could end up with four surnames hyphened together.

While I am all in favour of freedom of choice, the decision should be a considered one, not a kneejerk response.

Yvette Raikes

Camberley, Surrey


I understand Rosie Millard’s view that women should not change their names on marriage. There is a certain loss of identity.

However, how do we address the question of children’s names?

Presumably those parents who retain both surnames, or choose not to marry, either have to opt for one or other surname for their children, or double-barrel the names, which is fine for first generation children, clumsier for subsequent generations.

Patricia Pipe (née Davis)

Saltash, Cornwall


Twitter makes babblers of us all

Ian Katz’s important message to the world about “boring snoring” Rachel Reeves was proof of how Twitter can hobble intellect, tact, expressive elegance and plain good manners (report, 11 September).

So why do so many embrace a reductive medium that makes babbling morons of the allegedly brightest and best?

Perhaps it’s because intellect, tact, expressive elegance and plain good manners are actually in short supply. These are modest values, but they’re inevitably trumped by a need to be heard, and the arrogant presumption that the world hangs on the writer’s every simple-minded edict.

With intelligent discourse and basic human courtesy apparently now in hot pursuit of the dodo and Betamax, it seems rank idiocy will prevail for as long as 140 characters can be mustered for a planet-wide tour at the wave of a smartphone.

Richard Butterworth

Redruth, Cornwall


Bard’s rebuke to bigotry

I’ve been following the discussion in your letters pages about the rewriting of The Merchant of Venice and possible Shakespearean anti-Semitism. Perhaps it is time for someone to assert that all of us, regardless of our ethnicity, are equal as human beings.

After all, hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?

Prue Bray, Wokingham


An honest vote

Dominic Shelmerdine (letter, 9 September) castigates Sarah Teather for remaining in Parliament while not agreeing with the “Government’s necessary stand on immigration and benefit caps”. These loaded  words are irrelevant. Teather, like all Liberal Democrat MPs, was voted in to carry out the policies of her party, not to get into bed with the Tories. She will be now be able to do what she was elected to do. Would that her colleagues might follow her example.

Ian Craine, London N15


No names

The acquittal by a jury of the Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell should once again highlight the real need for the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” to be recognised. This should absolutely involve anonymity, until the case comes to court. How many people’s lives are tarnished by a picture or a report after they have been charged with an offence of which they are later cleared?

Penny Manning,  Great Yarmouth, Norfolk


Inner beauty

There are many handsome Muslim men out there with rather nice hair. If they too want to be judged for their inner beauty (Letter, 9 September) then they should cover their heads like many Muslim women do, or cover up completely. They must be modest too; otherwise it would be a bit hypocritical, wouldn’t it?

Emilie Lamplough, Trowbridge, Wiltshire


Out of print

Should those of us who have no intention of buying smartphones with a fingerprint  sensor send our prints direct to GCHQ?

Dr John Doherty, Stratford-upon-Avon