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High-speed rail link is on track

Transport issues in the UK are always newsworthy topics, whether it is train delays, cancelled flights, the quality and frequency of service or damage to the environment. Here’s another one that’s been around for some time – high-speed rail-links. Countries such as France and Germany have had high-speed rail links for years, but the UK has lagged behind. Could this be about to change?

The proposal is for a £30bn 250mph high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, with the possibility of a future extension to Northern England and Scotland. This idea has been on the cards for some years and there remains political disagreement about the routes, the funding and the environmental impact. Undoubtedly, such a rail-link would provide significant benefits: opening up job opportunities to more people; reducing the time taken to commute and hence reducing the opportunity cost of living further away from work. It could also affect house prices. Despite the economic advantages of such a development, there are also countless problems, not least to those who would be forced to leave their homes.

People in the surrounding areas would suffer from noise pollution and their views of the countryside would be changed to a view of a train line, with trains appearing several times an hour at peak times and travelling at about 250mph. Furthermore, those who will be the most adversely affected are unlikely to reap the benefits. Perhaps the residents of the Chilterns would be appeased if they were to benefit from a quicker journey to work, but the rail-link will not stop in their village. In fact, it’s unlikely that they would ever need to use it. There are significant external costs to both the residents in the affected areas and to the environment and these must be considered alongside the potential benefits to individuals, firms and the economy. Given the much needed cuts in public spending and the cost of such an investment, it will be interesting to see how this story develops over the next 10 years.

Podcasts and videos
£30bn high-speed rail plans unveiled Guardian, Jon Dennis (12/3/10)
Can we afford a ticket on new London-Birmingham rail line? Daily Politics (11/3/10)
All aboard? Parties disagree over high-speed rail route BBC Newsnight (11/3/10)

Articles
The opportunities and challenges of high speed rail BBC News, David Miller (11/3/10)
Beauty of Chilterns may be put at risk by fast rail link, say critics Guardian, Peter Walker (11/3/10)
High-speed rail is the right investment for Britain’s future Independent (12/3/10)
Hundreds of homes will go for new high-speed rail line Telegraph, David Milward (12/3/10)

Questions

  1. Make a list of the private costs and benefits of a high-speed rail link.
  2. Now, think about the external costs and benefits. Try using this to conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis. Think about the likelihood of each cost/benefit arising and when it will arise. What discount factor will you use?
  3. There are likely to be various external costs to the residents of the Chilterns. Illustrate this concept on a diagram. Why does this represent a market failure?
  4. How would you propose compensating the residents of the Chilterns? Are there any problems with your proposal?
  5. Will such a rail link benefit everyone? How are the concepts of Pareto efficiency and opportunity cost relevant here?
  6. To what extent would this rail link solve the transport problems we face in the UK. Think about the impact on congestion.
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