by Senior Writer, Joe Gallop.
The often criticised High Speed 2 (HS2) is scheduled to commence in 2029 and it remains a crucial component in Britain’s net-zero goal.
With a new-found worldwide culture of remote working, the development of greater national transport links may have hit a hurdle.
Before the UK government’s social distancing measures began, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in the House of Commons back in February that he would press on with the controversial HS2 project, which will see a drastic change to Britain’s railway system.
But since this announcement, the need for public transport improvements has significantly decreased and COVID-19 has ground its progress to a halt. Virtual communication has become a huge part of many people’s working lives, which many believe is now an appropriate long-term alternative to the hassle of commuting up and down the country for meetings and conferences.
This has only put more pressure on the government to rethink the “white elephant” of HS2 and the prime minister has already been urged by fellow Conservative MP Esther McVey to look at alternative projects to invest the estimated £106bn sum on.
With IT infrastructure and fibre broadband having already been touted as substitute sectors to invest in, the pursuit of sustainability and cleaner travel may also receive a boost if the HS2 project fails to make progress – especially because transport is currently Britain’s largest emitter, accounting for 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.
The project, which began in 2009, has previously been criticized for its damaging effect on wildlife, with a recent report suggesting that it will destroy “693 local wildlife sites, 108 ancient woodlands and 33 legally protected sites of special scientific interest.”
Construction has already begun on the controversial project, continuing even during lockdown, with workers already being accused of destroying birds’ nests and not sticking to social distancing guidelines.
What eco benefits does the project have?
The reception of HS2 hasn’t all been negative; a report by the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) last year claimed that hydrogen-powered floodlights and hybrid excavators used in construction will ensure a carbon emissions reduction of 20-30 percent.
Positive developments were shown in the new HS2 station in Solihull, West Midlands, also, which became the first railway station in the world to achieve an ‘outstanding’ BREEAM award for its sustainable and eco-friendly design. The station minimises carbon emissions through the use of natural ventilation and daylighting, air source heat pumps, LED lighting and more than 2,000m2 of solar panels generating zero carbon electricity.
“Our stations will be amongst the most environmentally friendly stations in the world,” said Peter Miller, HS2’s Environment and Town Planning Director.
Though it is impossible to know what HS2’s environmental impact will be and how it will affect UK’s plan to reach net zero status by 2050, it would reduce the demand for domestic flights and therefore “help drive the country towards carbon neutral status,” according to Miller.
But according to the Department for Transport, only 1 percent of HS2 passengers will be people who would have flown, and 4 percent those who would have driven.
Either way, according to 2017 ONS statistics; the carbon footprint of 120 years worth of travel for HS2’s Phase One route (London to Birmingham), including construction and operation, will be less than one month’s road transport emissions.
There have also been proposals of other “cleaner” alternatives to the controversial project such as Elon Musk’s Hyperloop pods which are supposedly less damaging to the environment than aircraft and three times faster than the world’s fastest high-speed rail system, according to the US Department of Transportation (DOT).
The system, which features electro-magnetic tracks that are protected by a low-resistance tube with very low air pressure, was recently named as a better option than HS2 by an expert at Edinburgh University.
HS2 has a long journey ahead before completion. Now it faces the immense task of overcoming the economic repercussions of COVID-19. But there is no doubt everything is being done to ensure the project reaches its full sustainable potential.