Supporting HS2 = feeding a white elephant?

Having a look at the Y-shape linkage throughout England, High Speed 2 (HS2) provides an average reduction of 36% in journey time with a speed up to 250mph. This infrastructure megaproject affects a wide range of people residing in the UK. In contrast to high-speed connectivity between cities, negative effects such as environmental damage and humanity issues define the construction of HS2 as an ethical problem. It is therefore questioned whether supporting HS2 is a wise decision to make.

Yes, we should support the construction of HS2

HS2 allows significant reduction in travel time, for example, the time taken from Sheffield to London can be shortened from 121 to 85 minutes. Also, as a new travelling option, HS2 serves as a solution to release the pressure on the existing rail network. The majority of rail passengers consider the ease of travelling and time saving as their main interests. If taking the UK rail passengers as the stakeholder, the positive impacts brought by HS2 outweigh the negative ones such as temporary inconvenience during construction. Therefore, by utilitarian theory, supporting HS2 is an ethical action for the passengers.

The high speed rail enables faster transfer from cities of high economic strength, like London, to those in the Midlands and the North. HS2 is therefore seen as an important attempt to bridge the long-standing North-South divide, as suggested by former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. For relatively larger cities in southern England, it is easier for companies to get access to new markets towards the northern cities. Simultaneously, economic growth can be achieved in relatively remote regions in northern England as the connectivity increases. To give an example, typical improvement is expected in Liverpool as additional train paths allow the city to expand its freight capacity. Based on consequentialism, it is correct to support the construction of HS2 as it brings economic benefits to both northern and southern cities.

Creation of job opportunities is another remarkable benefit of HS2. During construction period, 14,600 jobs will be created across the UK, and much more could be added once the entire line starts to operate. As more options are given to employees, it is more likely for them to find the most desirable jobs, which leads to greater motivation at work. This will bring positive impact on the UK labour market. Consequentialism is applied once again which identifies the construction of HS2 as an ethical action for organizations and potential workers in rail industry.

Apart from the economic benefits, HS2 also brings environmental benefits to the UK. High speed rail, in general, produces only 1/4 of the carbon emissions resulting from equivalent journeys made by road or air transport. The first phase of HS2 (from London to Birmingham) is expected to achieve 1.8 million tonnes CO2 emission cut over 60 years as a result of reduced car and air transport. HS2 can therefore contribute to the government’s climate change target to reduce UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. As people should always work towards a more sustainable future, the Duty framework identifies HS2 as a worthy project.

No, we should not

The estimated budget for HS2 has gone up by 30% from £42.6bn in 2013 to £55.7bn in 2015, before the actual construction of the rail line. This makes the final bill of the project difficult to predict. In addition, the UK government is currently under a large amount of national debt. In light of consequentialism, this costly scheme should not be supported by either the government or the taxpayers. As mentioned by the Labour Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, the Parliament is “still in the dark”. The uncertainties in both final bill and ultimate route make HS2 difficult to continue. From the taxpayers’ point of view, HS2 is tagged as a “wasteful vanity project” due to its high cost.

In addition to the unjustified budget, the environmental cost of HS2 should also be considered seriously. Natural England confirmed that HS2 will lead to “unavoidable loss” of “irreplaceable habitats”. This includes 61 non-statutory Local Wildlife Sites and 32 hectares of ancient woodland. Albeit this action is acceptable by law, it may ultimately lead to long-term environmental issues such as land degradation. This devastating impact on natural environment makes HS2 unacceptable by virtuous human beings.

Moving on from the environmental issues, the effect of HS2 on humans is also significant. Firstly, people with their houses close to the rail line have to give up their home to make way for HS2. This scheme forces a small but remarkable group of UK citizens to consider themselves as the “sacrificial lambs” for the country. Secondly, the exhumation of graves causes HS2 to be further criticized. For example, more than 30,000 graves have to be removed due to the expansion of Euston station. Ironically, even the father of British railways, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, might not save his grave from exhumation. From a humanity point of view, such actions will not treat human remains “in a decent and reverent manner”. Lastly, building HS2 would also threaten the nearby churches to close. The Church of England expresses the concern that, as the rail line splits a local community in two, people have to move out thus can no longer take part in church activities. All of the three scenarios violate the Freedom Principle by limiting the freedom to make decisions. Thus, the construction of HS2 is considered morally incorrect.

From previous discussions, it is difficult to draw a clear conclusion whether HS2 should be supported. We would like to know, if any, how HS2 affects your own life? What suggestion could you give to the route plan of HS2?

You are welcome to take sides or express your unique opinion by leaving comments 🙂

Group 23: Weijian Lin, Yining Liu, Liansong Li, Jingyi Zhou


30 thoughts on “Supporting HS2 = feeding a white elephant?

  1. I think to do the HS2 is better. Because the highspeed train can connect the big city in a little hours. It’s good for the development of UK. Although it costs a lot of money, but it’s a nice and necessary for the future of UK. Although now it does not good for the environment, but in the future it must more better than everyone driving a car traveling between those citys. And by the technology, nowadays we can use the clean power. For example, the solar power.


  2. Hey, great job, guys. I do not reside in the U.K and simply don’t have the time to read all these wonderful links you provided in your discussion report. However, I do have a stand on the mere surface level. I opposed the construction of HS2 and there are several reasons for this. “Job creation is just a myth.” It’s true that jobs are created in the process of construction and matainance stage. But is it true that the completion of HS2 will benefit import and export industry and tourism industry and society as a whole. I would say it may not be a necessity but an asset. Britain is the European transportation centre for both people and goods. But its decision of leaving the EU will more or less impact it’s status. It’s safe to say that it will not be the same. And when Britain’s economic status drop dramatically, if this unfortunate scenario ever is the case, we need to think again that is this new railway needed to replace some part of the perfectly fine system. On the environmental perspective, HS2 emiss less co2 and many other environmentally non-friendly gases. However you mentioned in your report that ancient woodland will be destroyed as a result of the construction. Once these ancient treasures gone, they are gone FOREVER. It does not matter how you compensate afterwards. Scientific research on this ancient species could not be conducted anymore. Not to mention that newly planted tree will contribute significantly less to the environment both on quantity and efficiency. Lastly, church’s stand should be considered seriously. Religion is the foundation of spiritual strength for many people and it plays such a critical job in society as welfare provider. If it takes a stand against a project, it sure has its rationale. You did such a fantastic job and count me in if there is a future discussion! Best Wishes!


  3. Personally I am against the idea of construction. I’d like to say that we still are not ready for it. More in-depth environmental investigations should be carried out, as the aftermath of the project could be underestimated at this stage.


  4. That’s a great blog guys! Reducing travel time is great and HS2 project clearly has its benefits, but personally, I oppose the idea of HS2 construction due to a number of reasons. The economic benefits from the project are really hard to predict and in the end London might benefit more from the project than the northern cities, which opposes one of the key reasons for construction (rebalance the economy between North and South). Another reason is that cost predictions already went up and they are likely to be even higher. It is argued that the price of tickets will be in line with the existing railways predictions, but if construction costs significantly rises, ticket prices are likely to be increased (and they are already argued to be overpriced). One of the economic considerations is that High speed railway routes are already used in France and Spain, which are just break-even and even slightly loss making respectively (BBC).
    Another consideration is that phase one of HS2 is believed to become operational by 2027 and phase 2 by 2033, being 10 and 16 years from now respectively. By that time alternative methods of transportation and business communication might play significant role reducing the necessity for railway transport. High speed railway transport is already established technology, which might be considered to be slightly outdated to start implementing it now.


  5. This article provides a very balanced analysis of the current issue in the conctruction of HS2. This massive project would probably make our lives easier in the long run, but from an enviromental viewpoint, this new rail line might make irreversible damage to the environment as it will cut through some of the most beautiful countryside and villages in England. We are not ready for it yet. Take the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China as an example. As the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, it indeed generates power for millions of people. However, it also affected the habitats of hundreds of endangered species and distroyed some of the most breathtaking natural sights. Whether its benefit ourweighs the costs is stll controversial.


  6. I support the construction of the HS2 because of the convenience through UK. This will help international students visit the whole UK.By the way ,the increase of economy will be significant.


  7. also,ich weisse nicht ,wie die Verkehrbedingung in England ist.Aber ich denke ,dass England ein entwickelt Land ist und die Umweltschultz am wichtigsten ist.Deshalb,bin ich fuer den Aufbau von oeffentlichverkehrsmittel.


  8. It is quite an amazing issue that Britaion has no high-speed connectivity. The group analyze reasons about whether the UK need to construct it or not. They concretely demonstrate their views on these two sides and maintain some reasonable facts and supporting ideas. I appreciate it that their logic thinking and chrononlogical method on this issue.


  9. Although I have not read all the article, I still think it is a good idea, because trying to do is the best. Anyway, good job.


  10. There is no doubt that supporting HS2 is definitely a advisable choice.First of all, Hs2 is beneficial for residents to travel among cities for shortening the journey time and provideing an economical way.Secondly, the convient way may be
    contributed to the massive increase of travellers in cities, stimulate economic growth as well. Last but not least,it can also enhance the culture communication,building a stable and harmonious society.


  11. I prefer the previous thought. Since the Brexit, we do need some measure to boost our economic growth. 14,600 jobs will also alleviate the refugees problem. But those who need to leave their home must be compensated appropriately. I don’t want to see a other “Enclosure Movement”.


  12. HS2 could ease employment pressure in some extents and it might have the driving effects to the less-developed regions along lines. Time, is a crucial factor to social and economic development in the 21th century. HS2 is the project that saves time fundamentally for those who has business trips. Although there are some ethnic issues, hence, HS2 is a necessary choice for Britain’s development in a long-term.


  13. I’m definitely for the HS2 project and hope below sounds reasonable to convince the negative concerns.

    We shouldn’t judge everything with reference to consequentialism or functionalism only. If so, what did we expect when building the London Eye? The London Eye faced similar situation in planning phase as the majority said it’s just a ferris wheel with costly spend.Later, it became the landmark of England which brought more than 3,000,000 visitors worldwide, not to mention its financial benefit. Likewise, HS2 is rather a symbol of development in construction and technology.

    I admit the budget is really a biggest issue, but what if we rely on China to help us with this? China has the world’s largest HSR network with over 16,000km of track, linking Qinhuangdao to Shenyang. They have quite good experience in going across areas with tremendously different weather, operational environments, etc. According to World Bank, China limited its domestic railway budget between $17m to $21m per kilometer whereas in Europe, it normally costs $25m to $39m per kilometer. If we bring China to this project, HS2 will be a great bond between UK and China for cultural sharing. Apart from this, HS2 may potentially trigger Chinese investors and our efforts and relatively huge spend may finally pay off. With this case, HS2 is such a win-win project as we can learn from Chinese’s expertise and bring benefits to UK’s workforce, to develop their skills…

    For humanity point, I guess the father of British railways Isambard would be more than happy to move his grave for HS2, at least he’s still making contribution to his rewarding career…

    keep up the good work!


  14. I support the construction of the HS2. In most of my journey, time is the most important factor which needs to be consider. So the the construction of HS2 could be a good news for me and i can expect that i will have an easier time to do the journey in the near future. On my personal note the HS2 can bring me lots of convenience.


  15. Good jobs, guys!
    I support the construction of HS2 in UK. As the simplest reason, HS2 will improve the connectivity between the two places, shorten the distance between people and bring more convenient for people’s work and life.
    Secondly, HS2 will provide more choices of traffic tools. Compared with the average speed of railway, it increases nearly 40%. In the point of transportation cost, HS2 saves 1-2 times than the aircraft. Both of time saving and cost saving will greatly facilitate people’s travel and make the high speed rail become a popular transport all around the world.
    Thirdly, those who worry about crossing wildlife sites, ancient woodland and graves, etc., can be fully considered in the planning stage, in order to avoid the loss to the most extent. It definitely will spend a higher construction cost, however the advantages shall outweigh the disadvantages eventually.
    Finally, HS2 significantly promotes the rapid development of underdeveloped areas and increases employment. Meanwhile, as an alternative of road and air transport, to some extent, it will reduce carbon emissions effectively and improve the environment. HS2 will make the British rejuvenated, I hold my hands in favor.


  16. You have presented a good argument on both sides. Well done! I like the idea of HS2 but I think that without significant change in the public’s habit it will not help hugely. I am sceptical about building HS2 for several reasons. As others have said, I doubt the benefit it will bring to the North. I think it will merely increase the number of commuters to London. However, I don’t think this is a reason not to build it as the motorways in England are curently saturated. Furthermore, carbon emissions will only drop as a result of HS2 if people make the change from using their cars to taking the train; currently something many are unwilling to do for the sake of convenience. The challenge I think is making HS2 more appealing than driving; it must be cheap and judging by current UK rail prices it won’t be. I think there must be some government initiative to help people make HS2 work, either by subsidising the ticket costs or raising taxes on high carbon emitting transport (driving a fossil fuel car alone to work). That said, as the UK population increases, roads will become even slower than they currently are and perhaps people will be forced to take the train to cut their commuting time. I am wholeheartedly against the destruction of communities and the environment so I find this aspect of HS2 very sad. Firstly, these must be minimised as much as possible to gain any of my support. Secondly, the HS2 plan must include plans to rebuild the communities and the environments it destroys (making it more of a displacement rather than a destruction). I personally find it hugely upsetting when physical history (an accident wood, or a church etc) is lost, but the essence of these original things (arguably more important) can be reincarnated by replanting and rebuilding albeit with high costs and a long time (think of post WW2 Europe; Dresden etc). People must realise that we are destroying the world through climate change so perhaps we need to see the greater good here. Therefore, ONLY if this line can garuntee a better quality of life and a VERY significant reduction in carbon for the UK, I would consider it worth building. This will only happen with government initiative forcing people to take climate change issues more seriously (strict carbon taxes etc). Thank you for your well written article!


  17. Among the many advantages of HS2, such as the reduction of travel time, creation of job opportunities, and the contribution to environment and so on, the positive impact of HS2 on economic development throughout the country is particularly remarkable.
    The initiation of HS2 will be a massive boost to the UK’s future economic prosperity and a clear signal that Britain is open for business. The economic growth benefits of HS2, go beyond the points around transport capacity, carbon emissions reduction and shorter journeys. To some extent, HS2 is not only a railway, but has the potential to break the imbalance between North and South that has characterized the UK economy for decades, hence will inject new vitality into Britain’s economic development. New things always bring challenges, take the challenge and enjoy the world class high speed railway which Britain deserves.


  18. Great job, guys. The topic of HS2 is being hotly debated and this article are looking this issue in good depth.
    Many readers believe that HS2 may bring economic benefits to the UK, but I suppose, as the article discussing, the environmental damage is unavoidable. If Wildlife Sites and ancient woodlands disappear, biological diversity will be destroyed eventually which may also lead to negative impacts to later generations. Besides, those citizens who have to migrate because of HS2 program may live in unfamiliar communities, to some extent, it may have a undesirable effect on their psychology especially to children. Thus, I think the government should consider those factors seriously when making the final decision towards HS2.


  19. I agree with the viewpoint that we should support the construction of HS2.

    Nowadays people tend to pursue high efficiency of work with the improvement of technology and the requirement of high benefits, which leads to the requirement of high-speed transportation. The construction of HS2 certainly creates the economic benefits. In order to prevent the environmental impacts, the railway line should be built through densely populated area, so the chance that HS2 contacts with wildlife will be reduced. At the same time the purpose of the construction of HS2 will be achieved when the railway go through the cites. On the other hand, the high-speed railway has been applied in many other countries.

    By the way, some information can be collected by comparing the construction of high-speed railway in England with that in another island country, Japan, which has a similar proportion of population and the area of their territorial area.


  20. Well, I suppose that the disadvantages overweigh advantages among this issue of HS2. After leaving the EU, the UK government is facing ever great economic instability and one supporting evidence is the devalue of the pounds.
    Also, HS2 would bring lots of pollution as mentioned in this article.


  21. Good job on your wok done. Here’s my opinions. In general, I am against the construction of HS2. Unlike countries with well-developed high speed train system, for example, China and Japan, UK has lower population density. If less people were to travel by HS2, it’s difficult to justify the construction. Secondly, the price is not yet determined, which is believed to be an important factor affecting the choice of traveling. Lastly, as mentioned in the article, the noise to local people and damage to the natural environment make it difficult to justify, especially UK government just triggered Briexit.


  22. Good job! You have presented very good points on both sides.
    As for the ideas discussed in the essay, I agree with the viewpoint that we should support the construction of HS2.
    First, facing to the serious economic instability after leaving the EU, the UK government need a special way to stimulate the economy, infrastructure projects can bring us more opportunities of employments and attract more investment.
    Second, as for the environment protection and energy saving issue, high speed rail actually is the most efficient way of transporting people between cities. It requires fewer stops, meaning less energy is expended on repeatedly braking and accelerating. And all the concern about the protection of the ancient precious things will be taken into account during the design of HS2.
    What’s more, quoting some information on the net. Network Rail says that by the mid 2020s the West Coast Main Line will be full. Most of the crowding will be at the southern end of the line. In 2011, during the morning peak there were on average 4,000 people standing on trains into Euston and 5,000 going into Birmingham, according to the DfT. Demand is also projected to grow on long-distance routes, with an expected rise of 46% between London and Manchester, and 39% between London and Leeds by 2023.
    So, I think the benefit we can gain from the construction of HS2 are surely over that if we give it up. Best wishes for the promising future of UK.


    1. From the perspective of a Chinese Professor, I think you have given standard arguments. Actually I myself did not make a research on this topic until I read your arguments. I discussed the arguments with my British colleague and we are interested to see the debate is called an ethical argument.

      In the supporting part, you mention that economy could be strengthened. We are interested in the current capacity for travel, freight transport, etc.. It is limited so HS2 will tackle capacity constraints. And we would like to see more examples when you talk about new markets. As for job opportunities, you have given good arguments, and maybe more concrete examples could be given. We think apprenticeships and colleges for staff training are also involved. For the environmental benefits, you have given very good examples and it is quite persuasive. My British friend suggested that you also mention in this part that for every natural habitat lost the government &HS2 have pledged to build / create a new one to replace the lost ones.

      Now moving from the pros to the cons. We find the arguments weak. Is Budget a reason not to develop? Second, as mentioned in the pros, habitat loss will be solved by the government. And government will provide compensation for the loss of homes. I agree that life of the communities and nearby people will be affected. Third, when talking about the close of the nearby churches. I read some arguments and consulted some of my Christian friends, and found that many would argue that an ancient monument did not really meet the needs of today’s Christians attending those churches.

      As a foreigner, I am not taking sides. However, from my experience traveling from Tianjin to Beijing (about 36 minutes today, compared with 2.5 hours 20 years ago) and from Tianjin to Shanghai (about 5-6hours, compared with 11-12 hours 4 years ago) or from Tianjin to my mother-in-law’s home in Zibo, Shandong (about 3 hours today, compared with 6-7 hours by an ordinary express), I would like to say that my family and I benefit a lot from the fast trains. And I also noticed that the debate in the UK is over and HS2 will happen. I’m just trying to anticipate that people in the UK would embrace the change happily.


  23. Great article, guys. I like how you’ve taken both sides to look at the issue. It’s a bit reflective of how I feel on the HS2 construction too. Jobs are great, but the environmental and economic issues it raises in the present time are also not inconsequential. It’ll be great to see how the government decides on this!


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