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New public poll: 62% say UK’s rail network is worse than other countries in Western Europe

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Survey finds majority would prefer £42.6 billion cost of High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) to be spent upgrading network

A new poll of members of the public by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has found that 62% of people believe the UK’s rail network is worse than those in the rest of Western Europe - with 58% of people saying the estimated £42.6 billion cost of the HS2 link would be better spent upgrading the existing rail network.

When asked separately about HS2, only 33% of the public said they supported the project.   31% said they opposed the project and 30% said they were indifferent. Of the people who said they supported the project, 71% said this was because it would make the UK’s train system faster; 61% because it would boost the UK economy;57% because it would bring more jobs to the Midlands and the North and 54% said it was because the planning and construction would create more jobs.

Of the people who were opposed to HS2, 80% said it was because the project is too expensive, 73% said the alternative of upgrading the existing network would be a better use of money and 62% said they opposed the project because it would damage the UK countryside.

Of the 2,000 people surveyed, 74% said they would use the new HS2 link either ‘rarely’ or ‘never’, which compares with just 3% who said they would use it ‘frequently’ and 18% who said they would use it ‘occasionally’.

Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“These results show that people believe the UK’s railway network is way behind the rest of Western Europe. HS2 could help improve people’s perceptions of the UK’s railways, by removing the bottlenecks to the country’s transport infrastructure, increasing the country’s capacity limits and helping to bridge the North South economic divide.

“However it is clear that public concern remains over the cost of HS2 as well as the impact the project will have on the UK countryside.

“Government and industry must work together to better communicate the benefits of HS2. It is also important for people to realise that upgrading the UK’s existing network is not a simple or cheap solution. It is estimated that even if we spent £20 billion patching and mending the existing main lines, it would deliver less than half the benefits of HS2 – and would require weekend closures on the East Coast and Midland Mainline for up to 14 years.

“The 50% rise in train passenger journeys achieved in the last 10 years is a testament to the effectiveness of what we have.  This growth is expected to continue and we urgently need the step-change to the UK transport system that HS2 can provide. Failure to build HS2 will lead to a continuing worsening of the UK network compared to the rest of Europe due to, for example, overcrowding.

 “HS2 would bring up to 50,000 jobs to the UK, help develop skills and could make the UK a world leader in cutting-edge railway technology.”

The poll asked over 2,000 members of the public on their views of HS2 and the UK rail network and was carried out by ICM on behalf of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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