Ivan Illich – Deschooling Society – you’ve probably heard of or read this famous work. It was a thesis setting out the reasons why schools were not necessary – and how society could manage without these. He advocated that advanced technology could be used to achieve a better education system And this was in 1971! In the same way we can quite easily manage without transport too – in other words ‘detransport’ it by way of better technology!

Conversely some have been claiming those who are against HS2 would like to find a way of placing blame for the current pandemic crisis upon the HS2 project – an excuse to have this vast new rail project put on hold – and have the monies for the railway diverted instead to the NHS in order to fight the virus.

Exactly! People like me are scrambling around like mad hoping to find some miserable excuse to have it stopped! Except we don’t have to look far. The fact is there’s been a massive change in the past couple of weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic and that ‘excuse’ has in fact become a reality!

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Precious woodlands and trees threatened by HS2. Source: Twitter

Before HS2 was even given the go ahead the first time round, people were saying what about remote networking? Those in favour of HS2 said that people preferred to meet face to face and few actually did any sort of remote networking. Not only that most would prefer to work on a train, prepping their notes, speeches, presentations, invoices before arriving at their destination. Now working from home is such a huge mantra that pretty much everybody finds it can be done without too much ado. It just needs to become even better!

It was just a few months ago (August 2019) when HS2 was ‘put on hold’ while a review was conducted whether it was something Britain actually needed or not. This review is what became known as ‘Oakervee’. That was finally acknowledged with HS2 being given the full go ahead on 11th February 2020 – basically it was ‘yes lets get the hell on with HS2.’ Later the same day the Prime Minister visited Birmingham giving his full support to HS2.

This is just twelve days after the World Health organisation announced coronavirus to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. At that time Britain only had EIGHT cases of Covid-19. (Source: NHS.) It would be just a few more days before coronavirus became a pandemic. And yet remarkably the brave new world we now have seemed so remote in those days!

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Ironic news headlines? HS2 versus the other half of the front page all about coronavirus. Observer 30 January 2020. Source: Twitter

On the 7th March 2020 a great find was announced in Birmingham. The remains of the former 1836 London and Birmingham railway terminus had been found. It was sort of expected but actually finding those huge and substantial remains was far more than anyone had thought!

Where were we in terms of coronavirus on that very day? We had just 206 cases. Guardian.

One of the last great jobs for the pro-HS2 gang was to gather in Birmingham on the 12th March (that’s just one month after HS2 had been given the go-ahead.) They looked at this fantastic archaeological dig where much of the remains of the former London ad Birmingham Railway terminus has been found. Live broadcasts, much elaborating of the archaeological remains with comments and pictures splashed right across social media. The turntable pit, the engine pits, sidings, drains and so on. Wow! All this planned, and built by George Stephenson and his designers, engineers and workmen nearly a hundred and eighty years ago!

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The 1837 Curzon Street remains of the London – Birmingham Railway. Source: Twitter (Note: The account is either suspended or made private thus an archived image is used here.)

It was ironic that at the time they were celebrating Curzon Street, one of the world’s leading high speed railways, the Tokaido Shinkasen was in big trouble. Tokyo-Osaka bullet train ridership falls by ‘unprecedented’ 56%. This was even before anyone had decided the Tokyo Olympics should be postponed. The reason for this was people were massively changing their travel habits. There were far easier ways of doing things that didn’t involve travel. And that involved remote networking.

What is more sobering is the fact the pro-HS2 gang all used remote networking to broadcast the HS2 discoveries to the world. Their message spread across the UK faster than any train which would have carried it!

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Japan Railways Central (JR Tokai) suffers a huge collapse in finances due to covid19. Source: Nikkei News (Reported also at Railway Technology)

Where was Britain in terms of both Curzon Street and coronavirus? 596 recorded cases / 10 deaths. BBC.

Isn’t it ironic the Curzon Street discovery’s been the last big thing anyone’s heard about HS2? Since the country has been practically closed down – people are clamouring for HS2 to cease its construction altogether because its workers are not social distancing and the rest of it.

Elsewhere across the world we are finding too that many of the new high speed lines have financial crises besides the Tokaido Shinkansen. Those in Spain have almost never paid their way and a number of services and stations have been very underused – in one case just nine passengers a day used a service (Telegraph) meaning Spain’s high speed services have been in certain cases a white elephant.

The covid19 pandemic isn’t going away this week and not the next. Not even by the middle of the summer. Railways are hugely affected. On the day I am writing this the railways are barely carrying anyone. Services have been slashed enormously. We have 17.089 cases of covid19 as well as 1,028 deaths.

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UK transport companies’ finances being severely squeezed. Source: Twitter

In terms of London its going to be pretty bad – TfL has to pay for Crossrail and that line’s nowhere finished. Covid19 will no doubt set its opening back even more. Any income TfL had been hoping to acquire over time to pay off those debts is vanishing fast as its buses and tubes run empty. I don’t think Crossrail Two nor the Bakerloo extension will see the light of day.

Current observers strongly believe the human landscape will change massively. Take for example this interview on Channel Four interview with Yuval Noah Harari. Travel wont be as in vogue as it once was. People will use remote networking even more. Yuval Noah Harari points out the kind of progress we are seeing are processes that would normally take years, decades even to achieve. Yet in the short space of a week or two major political, social and transport upheavals are taking place – and as a result and most of us have switched to home working/networking.

One thing is hugely evident across the media and social media – cleaner streets, cleaner air and cleaner environments. The dolphins are back in parts of Italy. This is something many will no doubt want to keep. The days of smoky cities and unbreathable air are out. Nature and the animals are definitely in.

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Dolphins are back in Italy! Source: Twitter

The urge to get towns, cities and countries CO2 neutral by 2025 at the earliest (especially in the light of governments assertions saying it would take until 2050 for this to be achieved) looks like its well on the way to being attained easily. Didn’t even need Extinction Rebellion’s help – coronavirus will have ironically done the job.

Where does HS2 come in all this? Nowhere. It has no role to play in the future of humankind. It simply arrived too late. It surfed in on the peaks of the coronavirus wave. We have enough railways and if we wanted we could restore a few more. However the simple answer in the future is going to be this: Don’t make a journey unless it is really necessary. Use remote networking instead!

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HS2 broke the environment before it even started! Source: Twitter

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Alex Mckenna

I hope this lock-down mentality doesn’t result in us becoming isolated and unfamiliar with meeting real people, where we live entirely in our own little box, like “The Machine Stops”, unable and unwilling to go out. People will always need to travel, and I think on balance that HS2 is a good idea. There are plenty of trees around – they won’t die out – and bats and lizards too. The space taken by HS2 is extremely small – nowhere near the acreage of an 8-lane motorway, for example.. Maybe we should be thinking about taking a few of those huge gas–guzzling cars out of the picture before stopping progress on public transport?


I really don’t understand any of the arguments here.
The statement about schools if anything shows how bad an idea remote networking is. Social isolation is somethign we’ve been forced into and that most people, including introverst like myself would never choose. It’s isolating, depressing and bad for mental health. Taking away travel and interaction at work is a sure fire way to prioritise business and the economy over people’s wellbeing.
Then there’s the claim that because other high speed rail services are losign money and passengers over a GLOBAL PANDEMIC that we don’t need them. Restaurants, bars, shops and garages are also losing money but I don’t hear anyone claiming that they should remain closed after the crisis is over. Sending information over the internet may constitute ‘remote networking’ to you but that’s not only a misnomer, it mises out on the fact that this happened before the crisis, no one has used railways as a means of communicating information for years, none of this is revolutionary yet people are trying to claim that there’s a new reason for not needing to travel, it’s not.
The environmental bnefits of the pandemic have been huge as you state, almost none of which have been caused by trains not running, high speed or otherwise. It has been caused by reductions in car and air travel as well as shipping/cruises and closure of factories and workplaces. The electricty of railways is still being produced and is still polluting, just not being used on the railways any more. Almost none of the benefits we are seeing come from a reduction in public transport and to claim otherwise is simply strawmanning. It has been pointed out by others how much more damaging a motorway would be than HS2, how about properly opposing shemes such as the Silvertown tunnel where you may find some allies rather than this crusade against a project that is beneficial for the country and is going to go ahead at some point anyway?