High-speed rail links do not inherently lead to major economic growth in the regions in which they are built but are necessary to help attempt to rebalance the economy by providing more opportunities for businesses in the areas they serve.
This is the key finding from a paper by Emeritus Professor Roger Vickerman, entitled Can high-speed rail have a transformative effect on the economy?
The paper looked at the impact of the high-speed rail links in North-West Europe as well as the UK’s only high-speed route, HS1, which runs between London, Ebbsfleet, Ashford and Folkestone and serves other Kent stations including Dover, Canterbury and Ramsgate.
Since HS1’s introduction there has been a notable growth of knowledge-based employment in clusters around locations on the line. For example, Ashford has seen knowledge-based employment grow by 40% between 2008 and 2014 and Canterbury has grown by 50%.
These findings have implications for the planned HS2 line by suggesting that it could lead to more knowledge-based businesses being able to set up in locations such as Birmingham and Leeds by taking advantage of quicker journey times between one another and to London.
However, despite the growth in knowledge-based employment along the HS1 route, there is no clear evidence that this on its own drastically helped boost the economies of the region.
In fact, some areas that were linked to the HS1, such as Dover, Canterbury and Ashford, had high levels of unemployment in 2014, the end of the time period the research covered, while others away from the line did in Kent did not, showing HS1 itself did not stave off unemployment risks.
Despite this, the paper notes HS2 is a very different proposal to HS1, linking far larger urban locations than HS1, which was essentially a regional commuting link, so it is not possible to definitively say the outcomes of HS2 will mirror that of HS1.
In conclusion, Professor Vickerman notes that while creation of new high-speed rail routes can undoubtedly have economic benefits other factors, such as better land use and labour market policies and skills development are required to realise this potential.
The paper has been published in the journal Transport Policy.