HS2 – good for Essex?

Councillor Dave Harris believes HS2 could benefit both Essex and the East of England as a whole

Councillor Dave Harris believes HS2 could benefit both Essex and the East of England as a whole

AN EAST of England politician has said he believes that HS2 could act as a catalyst for future rail improvement in the region.
Dave Harris, (pictured) who sits on both Essex County Council and Colchester Borough Council, said that for HS2 to reach its full potential, new conventional East-West rail corridors would be required across England and Wales to connect with the North-South HS2 route.
“If you look at what France and Spain have done, in building decent conventional railways on virgin land feeding into their High Speed railways , it has vastly increased traffic across the whole network,” he said.
Mr Harris spent 38 years working as a senior railway engineer, firstly with British Rail, then Railtrack and then with Network Rail.
“To maximise use of HS2 – and to keep freight competitive – you need to have a decent, fast railway infrastructure both at high and conventional level.
“I spent a lot of my time working on projects such as lowering rails, widening or raising bridges because we were basically dealing with what was a Victorian network.”
Labour politician Mr Harris said it was particularly important for freight as major new deep-sea container ports – including Bathside Bay, in Harwich – were in the pipeline.
“It’s about business links as much as passenger links,” Mr Harris said.
“It’s important to create new rail corridors because if you don’t, you can’t be future-proofed, and the whole network will be constantly in a state of flux – not only needing constant upgrades, but also requiring maintenance.
“A new East-West link would not necessarily have to be high speed – but it would need to be efficient and targeted.
“In my opinion, if HS2 goes ahead – which I sincerely hope it does – then it would evolve naturally.
“It mean that the East of England – which has no real motorway infrastructure – could keep up with freight traffic in terms of competition.
“It would ultimately be a greener solution to the environmental problems we have now, as well.”


What MIGHT HS2 be to you?


Everyones’s so worried about whether HS2 will or won’t happen, they seem to have forgotten that as well as a controversial major infrastructure project it’s also going to be an “experience”.

What does that mean? Well, it means passengers are going to have to ride on the thing – and nobody has yet said much about the aesthetics of the project.

So here are the results of a small, unbalanced, snap-shot survey designed not only to see a selection of views on what HS2 might be like to watch cutting through the countryside, but also to ride on.

Okay, so the questions might seem a bit trivial, but when you think about it, nobody seems to have really thought about it so far! Maybe its time they should …

Of course, those filling in the poll had to – perhaps unwillingly – assume that HS2 gets the go-ahead before committing themselves to answers.

But in all of the questions, there were a few (hard to spot?) get-out-of-jail free card options for outright HS2 dissenters, so they could still get their point across …

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Don’t bugger off to Manchester – not yet, anyway



Manchester’s Piccadilly Station

PIC : cc  Andrea Sartorati

A TORY MP has issued a “clarification” after recommending workers priced out of soaring residential costs in London should “move to Manchester,” citing the proposed HS3 as one of its attractions.

Sir Richard Ottaway said in a BBC interview that following Chancellor George Osborne’s suggestion of creating a “northern powerhouse” – aided by a high speed rail link running from Manchester to Leeds – people should consider moving north to escape London’s “sky-rocketing” house prices.

“I mean, we were talking … about the northern hub, houses up there are really quite reasonably priced and that is perhaps what we should be doing, is getting people on the trains and up to Manchester,” the MP for Croydon South said.

But his comments were quickly seized on by the opposition. Sarah Jones – Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for neighbouring Croydon Central – branded them “out-of-touch”.

“I speak to families every week who, like me, have lived in Croydon their whole lives and are now struggling because of the complete failure of this Conservative government to deal with spiralling housing costs”, she told the Croydon Advertiser.

“To suggest that people move 200 miles from their homes, jobs, friends and family is a real kick in the teeth,” she added.


Diesel Locomotive LADY PENELOPE of Manchester Train Care Centre passes Castleton East Junction signal box 47

A Virgin diesel locomotive near Manchester. The city is not due to get its HS2 link before 2033, let alone its proposed HS3 link to Leeds

PIC cc Ingy the Wingy

These comments prompted a “clarification” from Sir Richard, a former naval officer.

“It certainly wasn’t a ‘bugger off to Manchester’ statement”, he said.

“If we can persuade people from migrating into London and get them to move to a northern hub instead, it will reduce demand.”

However, both Sir Richard and Mr Osborne have so far failed to give a timescale for HS3, which could not be built until HS2 reaches at least Manchester and Leeds – and that won’t happen until 2033 at the earliest.

So a major migration north to enjoy lower house prices and the benefits of the newly-proposed high speed line is unlikey to be attractive for decades to come.

Meanwhile, Mr Osborne has been accused of playing politics with his proposals for HS3.

Some believe he is simply trying to appeal to voters in the North of England – most of whom traditionally vote Labour – to back the Tories in next year’s general election.

Others have accused him of flagging up the prospect of a North of England economic buffer zone to concern Scottish voters in the forthcoming Independence referendum.

Scottish electors have already been told that plans to run HS2 from Manchester and Leeds to Glasgow and Edinburgh will not be funded by the UK Government should they vote to leave the union.

And Scotland’s SNP transport Minister, Keith Brown, has already refused to approve plans for Holyrood to pay for the high-speed link if the country does become independent.

Suddenly it’s HS3

Chancellor George Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne

PIC: CC ordinaryfool

Chancellor George Osborne has launched plans for yet another UK High Speed Rail service today – and it’s called HS3.

Now anybody has a right to be confused – where did HS3 come from ?

Well, until recently many casual observers might have assumed HS3 was the planned extension of the HS2 line splitting from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds (the junction that would give the line its distinctive Y-shape).

But no. Confusingly, that is called HS2 Phase Two.

So, those not entirely up to speed with the project might then guess that HS3 is the later plan to connect the two north of England cities with Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

(The specific route has not yet been finalised by the Department for Transport, but you can see it in white here)

The proposed HS2 Phase Three can be seen running north from Leeds and Manchester

The proposed HS2 Phase Three can be seen running north from Leeds and Manchester

PIC: media handout from Birmigham City Council

But again, no: that is HS2 Phase Three.

So when George Osborne speaks of HS3, what’s he talking about?

Well, it’s a new proposal to connect Leeds and Manchester together with High Speed rail  – a line across the top of the Y, if you like.

You can see George Osborne talking about it here.

This out-of-the-blue plan was announced on June 23 to a mixed reaction.

Liverpool initially seemed quite keen on the idea of getting onto the High Speed network bandwagon – but there’s already a short conventional rail spur from Manchester Piccadilly to Lime Street that takes as little as 36 minutes.

So it’s difficult to tell exactly what Osborne’s talking about when he includes Merseyside in the “joining up of cities including Liverpool” – a new High Speed Line, or just keeping the existing route with a faster service to Leeds starting at Manchester?

The Wolverhampton Express and Star gives a much more cautious response to the news.

It headlines its editorial “HS3 talk is cheap while £50bn question of HS2 remains” and points out that those behind HS2 Phase One still have some difficult hurdles to clear before the project actually begins.

The Huffington Post airs accusations that the Chancellor is merely talking about HS3 to encourage more northern voters to back the Tories at the next election.

And the Daily Telegraph has responded to the announcement of HS3 with news that the right-leaning Institute of Economic Affairs has dubbed HS3 a “costly vanity project

HS2: A Grave Affair?

The Church of England appears to have come out against HS2 in a row over the disturbance of cemeteries that would be affected by the route of the high speed line.

This story was picked up quickly by the media. The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Daily Mirror and The Times all covered it, as did various other national news outlets.

In the regional press the tale got good traction too –the Birmingham Mail spoke of “fears over plans to dig up cemetery”, the Camden New Journal breathlessly declared: “Historic Graves to be ripped up if HS2 high speed rail link goes ahead” and Heart FM out-punned everybody with its headline “Church Prays To Halt HS2 Over Grave Fears

The story originated in a press release issued on June 2 by the CofE which was in turn based on a formal petition handed to the Government almost two weeks earlier by the Archbishops’ Council.

HS2 Ltd quickly tried to play down the objection, pointing out that the CofE had specifically stated it was not against the project per se, but conceded there was concern with the desecration of consecrated land.

(The company also took umbrage with the Telegraph story’s headline, which it described as “somewhat sensationalist”, and explained the complex procedures of petitioning against a Hybrid bill. But, to be fair, the Telegraph did take a more sombre approach in this think piece by Philip Johnston).

The Department of Transport also weighed in on the CofE’s petition, pointing out that although the affected burial grounds in Euston, Stoke Mandeville and Birmingham had not been used for more than 100 years, HS2 Ltd would treat human remains with dignity, respect and care.


One of the remaining monuments in St James’s Gardens,

Pic CC Stephen McKay


So what inspired the CofE to launch such a strongly worded petition to the Government?

In the construction of major transport projects, graveyards have often been subject to destruction, with their human contents removed and placed elsewhere.

As Philip Johnston Points out, poet and author Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) personally oversaw one such removal when an apprentice architect near King’s Cross.

He later seemed to regret his actions somewhat, speaking up for those exhumed in a poem called The Levelled Graveyard.


Thomas Hardy

What’s more, the CofE doesn’t seem to have made much noise about other graveyards threatened by recent transport projects.

It has seemingly had little of consequence to say about Cherry Lane Cemetery, which faces the prospect of being dug up for a dual carriageway in some of Heathrow Airport’s expansion proposals.

And it apparently said nothing much about the thousands of graves being unearthed by Crossrail, including those found near the old Bedlam Hospital asylum and others in a previously undiscovered plague pit.


Bedlam Mental Hospital interior. Bodies from the first hospital have been found by workers on London’s Crossrail Project. Pic William Hogarth, Scene in Bedlam Asylum, 1732-33

In fact these were unceremoniously whisked away to the Museum of London Archaeology for scientists to test, hoping to find the DNA of the bacteria which caused the bubonic plague.

And the CofE even seems quite happy to dig up bodies from its own graveyards when so inclined. In this getSurrey article, Graves to be relocated for new church, one church leader says casually, “It’s quite usual”, and adds: “It’s a disused burial ground”.

A bit like St James’s Gardens in Euston then, one of those threatened by HS2 and one of the subjects of the CofE’s petition.

The gardens are now a public park and children’s play area –complete with football and basketball facilities – and has not hosted a funeral since the mid 19th century.

Park Street graveyard in Birmingham closed for burials in 1857 and, ironically, most of it was bought in Victorian times by the London and North Western Railway to run a rail line through, with 1,151 graves dug up to accommodate the route.

Meanwhile the Old Stoke Mandeville Church of St Mary’s last saw a burial in its grounds in 1908, and is now – even according to those trying to save it – a “heap of rubble” in a deserted village.

Perhaps the CofE’s true objection to the disturbance of cemeteries dates back to HS1, when the railways’ builders forced furious archaeologists off the sites of one of its former graveyards to complete the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

HS1 cited use of a Hybrid Bill to over-rule the CofE and English Heritage’s objections to what they saw as the over-hasty demolition of the St Pancras cemetery.

The suggestion from within the Church lies here, albeit buried at the bottom of some Daily Mail copy republished by the Anglican Communion News Service website. Strangely, the paragraph making the connection has now vanished from mail online.

The London Evening Standard carried the story in 2002, saying that the archaeologists’ plan had been to identify the dead and contact their relatives explaining about the removal of the bodies. They also wanted to research the history of burial practices.

The story is no longer on the Standard website but is reproduced here, where it is claimed that HS1 refused to allow the bodies to be individually disinterred and therefore prevented proper reburial.

If this is the cause of the falling out between HS2 and the Chruch it’s a shame – British railways in general have a long history of positively helping with the disposal of the dead.
For example, the eerily-named London Necropolis Train was created to ferry corpses out of from the rapidly-expanding capital – which was fast running out of graveyard spaces – to a huge purpose-built graveyard in rural Surrey.


A one way Victorian “coffin ticket” for the London Necropolis train service

pic: public domain

An 1852 Hybrid Bill passed by Parliament allowed for the formation of the “London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company” which took bodies in coffins from a private station near Waterloo to a specially created “metropolitan” cemetery in the small village of Brookwood, near Woking.

The journey took around 45 minutes and there was even a separate station at the 400 acre-site for deceased CofE members, with those of other denominations being unloaded elsewhere.

This morbid rail service was such a success that the Brookwood Cemetery is still the biggest Western Europe, even talking into account military cemeteries.

Since 1854, more than 235,000 bodies have been interred there and it is still open for burials, although after the London station was bombed in 1941 the special railway service was abandoned.


The only remaining part of the London Necropolis London Station, at 121 Westminster Bridge Road, London


HS2 Poet’s Corner

WARNING: This podcast contains explicit language from the outset and material that some may find offensive.

Punk Poet Dr John Cooper Clarke and pop-poet and musician Martin Newell, both train lovers, come together to discuss Britain’s plans for a controversial High Speed Rail project.

Neither of them drive and they both regularly use railways to travel up and down the country, so you might guess they would be in favour.

It turns out they’re not.

At all.

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Dr John Cooper Clarke, Roddy Ashworth and Martin Newell. Copyright Alex Regan

One of the great things about poets, I think, is that the nature of their job requires them to feel more than they think, a rare privilege for a profession.

So although some of the figures and timings mentioned in this podcast are questionable, if not altogether incorrect, you’ll be left in no doubt as to the strength of their views.

You will also be in no doubt of the strength of their language.

The podcast also features John Cooper Clarke reading his  cautionary poem about the pursuit of speed on Victorian Railways – “Lines on the Death of William Huskisson MP, 15th September 1813” – dedicated to “the guy, whoever he is, whose bright idea the HS2 was”.