Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yet more troubles with high-speed rail ambitions in the UK

"Unlike other railways, which can steer a course around major obstacles, high speed rail cannot — it has to plough on regardless of what gets in its way — wildlife or people."

That sums it up pretty well. The Brits are having a devil of a time stopping their version of our hell; the mindless construction of a high-speed train that most of the UK seems not to want. 

This article is from the Oxford Times. Presumably, their editorial board does not represent the London-based moneyed or political interests that are promoting the HS2 train for their own benefit.

Familiar story?  It should be.  There are differences to be sure. The British environmental concerns don't see the train as such a good deal for the environment; which it isn't.  They see it as harmful; which it is.  

In this country, our environment concerned organizations don't seem to understand that.  Our Sierra Club loves this train in California.  They are ignoring the horrific environmental impact of the decade long construction and manufacturing cycle as well as the huge power consumption once the trains start running; power generated remotely by fossil fuels. They refuse to recognize the trivial differences between the fuel consumption of the cars of tomorrow and this train, if it ever does get built.  

I can't help wondering if Parsons Brinckerhoff or Siemens made the Sierra Club an offer they couldn't refuse, if you see what I mean.

One of the reasons there is so much media flak in the British papers now over this train is that their rail authorities didn't do their due diligence by consulting with the impacted population or with all the other to be involved stakeholders. And when they did, they didn't listen.  That is familiar to us here. 

Today, the House passed the FY2011 budget bill covering the last six months of this fiscal year.  No HSR in it.  I guess more and more people are starting to pay attention ". . .to the man behind the screen," as the Wizard of Oz called himself. 
'Halt this train'
9:12am Thursday 14th April 2011
If you were asked to spend £17bn of someone else’s money, you would want to know you were spending it wisely. I hope you would take advice, consider your options, and any risks, and gather together all the information you could to help you make the right choices.

The Government is about to invest of £17bn of taxpayers’ money in high speed rail, and to commit to spending far more in the future.

They have recently launched a consultation on their proposals, but rather than looking at options, their consultation only has one route.

A single line, drawn up without fully understanding the impact it would cause. It does not consider the merits of alternative routes, or any other ways of investing that money for transport.

The proposed route will have a major impact on wildlife and this should be considered alongside concerns for the business case for the line, and the human impact of such a large project.

As it heads into the Chiltern Hills, the proposed new line would be in a tunnel. There is a break in that tunnel for just over a mile-and-a-half.

In that break, the line ploughs through three separate sections of ancient woodland — sites that have been part of our landscape since before maps were drawn — before it goes back into a tunnel.

When it comes out of that second tunnel it runs almost immediately through another three sections of ancient woodland.

One of the greatest threats to wildlife is the fragmentation of habitats. As wild flowers and insects have their habitat reduced to smaller and smaller unconnected chunks, it becomes much harder for them to survive.

Isolated populations are at far higher risk from, for example, extreme weather such as long hard winters. Once gone from a patch, without connected habitat they may not be able to come back.

The wildlife impacts are not limited to woodlands. Further north, HS2 will run through meadows, nature reserves, more woodlands, and, ironically, old railway cuttings that are rich in wildlife.

Unlike historic cuttings, where wildlife-friendly scrub grew up on the banks and was managed either by cutting or by burning in rotation, the new line will not be able to have trees or shrubs growing near it.

The cost of the wrong sort of leaves on a high-speed line would be too great. In Oxfordshire, the tracks will slice across the north-east of the county, affecting local wildlife sites that HS2 has not taken account of. A group of butterflies that are Oxfordshire specialists would be particularly at risk — the hairstreaks.

In England, the black hairstreak is only found in a small area — woodlands and scrub between Oxford and Peterborough. They love old railway cuttings, where scrubby blackthorn can provide the ideal conditions for the larvae and adults of this elusive butterfly.

The key feature of the proposals — the speed — is in many ways its main problem. To keep a train running at the speeds proposed, up to 225 mph, the line can only have the gentlest of bends and slopes.

Unlike other railways, which can steer a course around major obstacles, high speed rail cannot — it has to plough on regardless of what gets in its way — wildlife or people.
It cannot stick to old railway lines that already exist, precisely because they do avoid hitting things.

What of the cost to wildlife (and taxpayers) north of Birmingham, going up as far as Scotland? This has not even been considered as part of phase II of HS2.

The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust is calling for a comprehensive assessment of the impact on the environment and our natural heritage along the entire route before plans for HS2 gather momentum. As part of a powerful alliance of major national charities, the trust has agreed ‘The Right Lines’ Charter, challenging the Government’s proposals and calling for a long-term transport strategy. It does not matter where you live, the Government needs to hear your concerns about wildlife, especially if you do not live directly on the proposed route.