STEEPLE CLAYDON, England — A chorus of bird song gives way to the roar of a chain saw and then the creaking and splintering of timber. A 50-foot tree sways, wobbles and finally crashes to the ground, while protesters shout and jeer.
The construction of the British government’s largest public works project — a high-speed rail line known as HS2 — has long been promoted as helping to save the environment. But it is under growing challenge from those who accuse it of doing the exact opposite.
They have waged a mostly fruitless fight against the project, a grand scheme to cut air and road travel by connecting the north of England to the more prosperous south with trains traveling at up to 225 miles per hour.
Now, with the pandemic prompting a surge in working from home and a slump in train travel, the opponents believe the argument is finally tilting their way, eroding the already shaky rationale for an effort that could cost more than $140 billion.
thought to have cost the project around £50 million already. Activists caught the authorities by surprise when they occupied tunnels dug near Euston Station in London, where the line starts and where Larch Maxey, a veteran of such protests, spent three weeks underground despite suffering from claustrophobia.