Saskia Murphy gets up to speed on trains

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When HS2 was announced in the late 2000s it felt like a revolutionary plan for a future world – a high speed rocket to Mars. Artists’ impressions showed sleek silver bullets zooming through the countryside as commuters were told they would be able to step on a train in Birmingham and step off in London just 49 minutes later.

Since then we’ve watched as the estimated costs of the project have escalated, the environmental costs have been laid bare. Now, it’s time for a rethink.

Supporters of HS2 say it will open up opportunities for everyone. According to them, normal people will be able to live in the north and commute to the south.

The HS2 website claims the railway will make it easier for people to access sports and heritage destinations. But come on – we’ve all seen the price of train fares, even with the service available now. Is an office worker on a £30k salary really going to be able to afford to travel to London every day? Is a parent with three children suddenly going to be able to afford to take their kids on a day out to the V&A Museum, just because an hour has been shaved off the journey? I don’t think so.

HS2 is a plan to pour billions of pounds of public money into private pockets. It’s a project that will only benefit the wealthy, a tailor-made service for men in suits.

Our train fares are already the most expensive in Europe, with ticket prices rising twice as fast as wages in the past 10 years. When it comes to transport, a high speed service to London should be at the bottom of the list of priorities.

I regularly travel from Manchester to London, and it is honestly fine. The journey really doesn’t need to be any faster. In just two hours and five minutes you can be safely dispatched from Manchester Piccadilly to Euston – just enough time to polish off a Pret salad and a few chapters of a book.

Compared with the daily turmoil experienced by northern commuters, the current service connecting the north to London is heaven. Until last week’s decision to strip Northern Rail of its franchise commuters were stuck in a chaos that lasted almost two years.

People living in northern towns and cities are held back by shoddy, unreliable public transport. Manchester and Leeds are just 44 miles apart, yet when a friend of mine tried commuting between the two for a temporary contract she found it almost impossible. Daily cancellations, delays and a service that is just too slow left her exhausted. When another contract came up she decided not to bother. It just wasn’t worth the hassle.

The north doesn’t need HS2. We don’t need to get to London faster. People working in northern towns and cities just want to get to work on time. They want to know that when they step onto a train station platform expecting their train to arrive at a certain time, that it will get there for that time. That it won’t be delayed, it won’t be cancelled. They won’t be late for work, they won’t be late picking their kids up from school, they won’t have to cancel their plans for that evening. They just want a service that works.

With the National Audit Office admitting it is “impossible” to estimate the final cost of HS2, it’s time to ask: who will HS2 really serve?

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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