The case for a complete rethink of our public transportation system was highlighted in the aftermath of Covid-19. An investigation into reforming public transport will begin by the all-party parliamentary transport select committee on Wednesday.
The HS2 was designed to offer the UK a state-of-the-art, high speed train line critical for the UK’s low carbon future. Its intent is to hold a large capacity of people to bring them across Britain’s 10 largest cities, serving over 25 stations. As the first major railway connecting the Midlands and the North for over a century, the high-speed railway presents a genuine opportunity to balance and reshape our economy.
Boris Johnson approved the construction of HS2 between London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds in February in the hopes it would “fire up economic growth” weeks before the pandemic. Since the pandemic began, we’ve seen an existential shift in the number of people working from home and holding meetings remotely. The decline in the use of public transportation has cause opponents to raise concerns over this £27 billion speed rail despite phase 1 of construction (London to Birmingham) already in progress.
The investigation arose after many issues were called into attention. Draft legislation to seek power to build, operate and maintain HS2 are currently being negotiated for phase 2 in Parliament. A poll conducted by The Engineer with over 9,000 participants suggests that 67% believe that HS2 should be cancelled while another 10% believe the pandemic has removed the need for it.
The substantial drop in demand for business travel due to the pandemic is a risk factor now as it was one of the main reasons for building the line, the cost of HS2 is a high £27 billion and our current climate crisis has brought on additional pressure to reduce our carbon emission. A report by the House of Lords economic committee in 2015 concluded that the case of HS2 was ‘heavily’ dependent on increased business travel.
The investigation on Wednesday will detail for and against arguments for our high speed HS2 rail line. Among those giving evidence to the select committee on Wednesday, expert Stephen Joseph’s focal point for discussion is that “it is unlikely for many city centre office workers to go back to working their 9-5 office jobs, five days a week”
The progression of HS2 has helped secure thousands of jobs across the country. The committee’s Tory chairman Huw Merriman told the observer that the pandemic has led to big changes in behavior and attitudes to work. She continued stating that “Our climate change commitments require us to shift away from diesel towards greener forms of energy. Changes to the way we appraise capital spending projects means the government no longer has to use value for money as the sole indicator.”
Andrew Adonis, the former transport secretary and leading enthusiast for HS2 is for pressing ahead with the scheme and believes it remains strong despite the pandemic. His future prediction is that Covid-19 will not play a substantial role on transport demand and that it will return to up to 90% of former passenger demand.