There’s little doubt that – thus far – the opponents of high speed rail have made more headway than its supporters in the battle for hearts and minds.
I saw a story a couple of weeks back about a Warwickshire cemetery on the route of HS2. Relatives of the deceased appeared to decry the sacrilegious disturbance of their ancestors’ bones, despite the fact that the line will tunnel a considerable depth under the graves.
I’m not convinced that such emotive examples help us to have a rational argument over the line’s merits. Certainly the Victorians, if they had shown the same sensitivities, would never have built a railway system in the first place. I can think of at least three burial grounds which had to be moved to make way for the trains in central Birmingham alone.
Even into the 1990s the dead were evicted at Key Hill to make room for the Midland Metro.
Much of the current discussion sounds like a re-run of the arguments – for and against – that marked the beginning of the railway age back in the 1830s. On the one hand the clarion call to progress and modernisation, on the other the cry for progress to go somewhere else.
It’s the reason that Birmingham (enthusiastic from the outset) was at the centre of the rail network and Lichfield (sceptical and resistant) was only tacked on as an after-thought.
The one major difference, between the 2010s and 1830s, lies in the nature of land ownership. In the old days only a handful of landlords owned all the land that lay between Birmingham and London.
Today, thousands of householders, all with the vote and freehold properties, stand between the two cities, and that, inevitably, makes the battle as much political as economic.
In the 1830s the way to win over the landowners to rail was to sell them shares in it. Perhaps that’s the way to appeal to Middle England too.
* Dr Chris Upton of Newman University College is saving up to buy a ticket