The Bizarre HS2 Route — How Was It Decided?

Last week the government published its preferred route for the proposed high speed railway line between Euston and Birmingham. It seemed to take almost everyone by surprise by avoiding the two existing high(ish) speed rail routes through the north-west home counties and ploughing a completely new route through the Chilterns, following roughly, in part the old Metropolitan Line to Aylesbury — now the Chiltern Railways commuter stopping service.

There are plenty of maps available on the DfT website. There’s an interesting one of the whole route and there are many detailed sub-maps which show the route in supposed detail. However, I get the feeling that these have been fairly hurriedly drawn up as no provision has been made to preserve public rights of way and only fairly obvious features like roads and flood plains are taken into account by the route (the latter probably being based on the Environment Agency website rather than actual surveying).

The route seems to have made concessions to the environment when it first sets out — even burying itself in a tunnel when near the tranquil M25. Yet when it emerges from the tunnel just west of Amersham then all thought of blending into the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural beauty seems to disappear — odd because these is some of the most scenic parts of the Chilterns. Incredibly, the route is planned to soar on a viaduct when it approaches south of Wendover and then it’s due to squeeze next to the A413 Wendover by-pass — which is less than a hundred yards or so from the start of Wendover high street and many houses.

A slight concession to noise is made by planning to have the railway be buried in a tunnel when it passes under the road towards Butler’s Cross but this will be a cheap ‘cut and cover’ construction so will require the demolition of a row of houses. These are pictured below.

Route of HS2 Next to A413 in Wendover
High Speed Line Will Plough Through Houses to the Right
Houses to be Demolished on Railway Route
Houses in Wendover to be Demolished on Railway Route

The line will then stretch from Wendover across the relatively flat ground of Aylesbury Vale — see below.

Route of HS2 at South Of Aylesbury Vale
The HS2 Line will be built just to the left of the road

From Wendover the line slices through the edge of Stoke Mandeville, just by the Goat Centre, and then passes very close to the Aylesbury outskirts of Hawkslade Farm, Southcourt, Walton Court and Fairford Leys before heading towards Waddesdon and Quainton — where it will cut across some maize fields that I found difficult to negotiate on the Aylesbury Ring last year. It’s about the only good thing about the route that instead of clearing a metre wide strip from his crops then the farmer will have a 75m wide railway run through them — no doubt farmers will be some of the few who will be reasonably compensated.

Maybe the government would like to have local residents believe that its highly paid consultants have been poring over various route options for the proposed High Speed 2 rail line in painstaking detail, carefully balancing environmental considerations against engineering requirements.

There is an alternative view. Consider that, as the route carves chunks out of the Chiltern chalk and then rises on high viaducts and embankments to dominate Aylesbury Vale, how close its alignment is to an existing disfiguration of the local landscape: the high-voltage electricity lines that stretch from the substation near Amersham, through Wendover, past Aylesbury and through Quainton. The routes align to within a couple of hundred yards for almost all their lengths.

Perhaps the planners took one look at the rows of hundred foot pylons and thought ‘if they can put up with those then maybe we can sneak in a 250mph railway line?’ Wrong. While visually obtrusive the electricity wires do not create the massive environmental disturbance, both permanently by despoiling the countryside and operationally by inflicting massive noise pollution.

Such is the scandalous lack of environmental consideration in the current plans that it’s easy to believe the planners have performed such a casual and perfunctory assessment of the route as to stand on Coombe Hill and play join up the pylons. Here’s a view of how the pylons march through the pass from Missenden into Wendover and perhaps encouraged the railway to follow.

Wendover Pass
The Pass Through the Chilterns at Wendover

Overall, high speed rail is a good idea and the route has to go somewhere but this seems like the cheapo option that avoids towns like High Wycombe and Watford that would require extensive tunneling to pass — and cheapo means it goes through unspoilt countryside and skirts a large population centre, neither of which currently has any existing mass transit corridor. The lack of consideration of deep tunnelling near Wendover and in the Chilterns and when the line is near Aylesbury is scandalous.

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