HS2 alternatives mean 14 years of replacement buses

The BBC and newspapers are reporting that proposals to upgrade the existing rail network instead of investing in HS2, would lead to 14 years of weekend closures and replacement buses. The cost of upgrading these main lines is not given, but it is worth reminding ourselves of the 1998-2008 upgrade to the West Coast Main Line which cost around £9bn after being scaled back due to technical problems and cost overruns.

Meanwhile Labour continues its lukewarm positioning on HS2, floating the idea of a reopening of the Grand Central line at a cost of between £10bn and £15bn (Ed Balls suggesting a lower figure of £6bn), though not reaching the speed or capacity of HS2. I have some affection for the Grand Central, having had – as a birthday present – a morning driving a Peak Rail steam loco, on a remnant of the route. I will wax lyrical on that on request, as did the engine crew about the potential to re-open the Buxton to Derby segment as a main line. But I guess the bridge I was told to take at no more than 10mph (Where is the speedo? There isn’t one.) would need some upgrading for high speed rail.

Do we really want to spend £9bn+ each on three line upgrades, and £6bn to £15bn on a new old Victorian line, and face years of disruption, for relatively marginal improvements to our rail network, or £42bn for a step change in capacity and speed?

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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26 Comments

  • As HS2 only affects the South West and West of the country then extra work, or otherwise, on the East Coast or Midland lines can’t be related to this. Is it not the case that the lines will need upgraded with or without HS2, therefore the status of HS2 is irrelevant.

    Or, will HS2 mean other regions of the country won’t get any investment, which they would get in its absence. In that case, as somebody who won’t benefit from HS2, but would from upgrading the East Coast mainline, cancel HS2.

    What am I missing?

  • Richard Shaw 28th Oct '13 - 5:50pm

    The Great Central should indeed be reopened, though it would be impossible to do in its entirety, on account of it being occupied by 18 miles of preserved railway, some of Nottingham’s tram network, housing, shopping centres, and the like. However it should be feasible to reopen from London Marylebone to Rugby, in order to connect to the WCML and maybe to the Midland Mainline at Leicester – at a push. Of course, rebuilding infrastructure or refurbishing remains that have been languishing for 50-60 years would probably be as expensive as building a line from scratch.

    It’s not zero-sum, either-or argument. Any re-opening schemes should be in addition to, not instead of. building HS2. Indeed, there are several schemes across the UK where reopening and/or upgrade projects are taking place.

    The arguments against HS2 apply just as much against reopening closed lines – just ask preserved railways about the opposition they face from NIMBYs whenever they want to reopen or upgrade a section.

  • @g You’re missing about half of the HS2 proposal.

    HS2 will connect to the East Coast Main Line at York, providing an alternative, faster route to Birmingham and London from anywhere on ECML north of York – all the way up to Edinburgh. For people in Newcastle or Edinburgh, journeys to London will be around an hour quicker, and journeys to Birmingham gain about as much (because the Cross Country Route to Birmingham is much inferior to the ECML to London)

    The only people who won’t benefit from HS2 are people in the South West of England and in South Wales. Even in East Anglia, they get connections at Stratford to the North of England and Scotland.

  • Richard Gadsden, so it won’t benefit anyone North of Edinburgh, unless they travel to London?

    That still rules me out.

  • Morgan Inwood 28th Oct '13 - 9:45pm

    Some parts of the Great Central Line cannot be reinstated due to the land being built on. The Beeching Reports failure was that the land was not protected and Local Authorities have built on it..

    Staffordshire also looses from HS2 because the 2 trains per hour London to Manchester via Stoke-On-Trent will be routed on HS2.

    The Prime Minister has said if Labour do a U-turn from supporting HS2 to opposing it then the project may be scrapped.

  • We are told that many cross-country routes will be opened up or enhanced over the same period as the HS2 project. We are not told how expensive travelling by HS2 might be and therefore how much it might actually restrict north-south travel for those without loadsamoney. If we can believe all these plans then things might become quite interesting in ten years’ time.

    It’s good to see it acknowledged above that HS2 trains can continue – at lower speeds, and following different rules – beyond Manchester and Leeds, but what about the other way? HS1/Eurostar/whatever is sold to us as access to Lille and Brussels and holiday places in France and many other mainland cities. All the “Europeans” have to look forward to is a train to London and then change – quite probably twice – to get anywhere else. There is a barrier – real as well as psychological at London, whereas Manchester to Frankfurt might make a lot of sense.

  • Morgan Inwood 28th Oct '13 - 10:17pm

    @Ed Wilson

    A problem which is a big one regarding through HS2 to the continent services is that the UK is not part of the Schengen Agreement and we would have to build border controls at those stations or we would enter the Schengen Agreement which I doubt Westminster would do.

  • There’s so little capacity in the existing network that the alternative to HS2 as postulated here would be disastrous. We’re already at the stage where train driver manning issues in the morning in Exeter can cause widespread delays to lunchtime services at Birmingham New Street (an example seen on a BBC documentary not too long ago).

    I grow less positive about HS2 day by day – the defeatist attitude of many of my countrymen is like that of a battered spouse. It’s seemingly fine to spend this amount of money on a London-only project like Crossrail but the concept that another part of the country receiving a boost to its infrastructure is suddenly the End Of Days is something I cannot get my head around.

  • jenny barnes 29th Oct '13 - 9:05am

    @ morgan wilson ” we would have to build border controls at those stations ”
    Or provide border control actually on the train between Ashford and Lille? Why not?

    As to Joe’s arguments, they sound like a LibDem defending a Tory policy. I have yet to see any analysis of whether the “High Speed” bit of the development is actually worth doing, or why not build it for normal speeds? Cost analysis?
    High speed trains typically use twice the energy per passenger km as normal speed trains, because of increased air resistance and more energy going into acceleration. http://www.withouthotair.com/c20/page_120.shtml Mackay quotes 1.6 kwH/ 100 paxkm for standard electric train, 3 for high speed, … assuming they are both full, of course.
    Capacity might very well be a good argument, but the benefit analysis seems to be, at best, confused.

  • I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading the government’s latest version of the HS2 business case (of which these claims about 14 years of disruption for the alternatives form part), but if it’s anything like the previous FOUR versions then it will be full of wonderful extrapolations and assertions that stretch credulity to breaking point and beyond. I look forward to it ….!

    The government has now dropped the speed argument completely and is pinning all its hopes on winning the extra capacity case. The problem this causes, however, is that WRONG SPEED = WRONG ROUTE! If the 250 mph design speed for the track is not a given, then it is not necessary to build it as straight as an arrow across large swathes of England, destroying local communities, ancient woodlands etc etc. With different design criteria, it could be built to minimize community and environmental damage, by swerving round things rather than ploughing straight through the middle of them! It could follow existing transport corridors much more closely, which up to now we’ve been told isn’t possible because things like motorways have too many curves in them.

    So if it’s all about long term capacity, isn’t the answer obvious? Get on and do those improvements to existing routes that can be achieved relatively easily/cheaply (e.g. the 51M list), relieve current capacity pressures now rather than having to wait 10+ years, and buy some extra time to do the job properly. Forget HS2, a line drawn on a map in Whitehall in 2009, and come up with a properly integrated long-term transport strategy. Hang on, isn’t that Lib Dem party policy …….?

  • “The government has now dropped the speed argument completely and is pinning all its hopes on winning the extra capacity case”

    No it hasn’t dropped anything. It’s still a good one, particularly for destinations north of London, it’s just that the capacity argument is even stronger and more pressing.

    “So if it’s all about long term capacity, isn’t the answer obvious? Get on and do those improvements to existing routes that can be achieved relatively easily”

    Er, which is precisely what is being done with investments in the existing lines and electrification.

    It is utterly incredible that we have allowed this debate to be hijacked by a load of nimbyist naysayers who can’t see beyond the end of their back gardens or, in the case of Labour, further ahead than 18 months. Shocking, truly shocking.

  • I am still shocked at my countrymen’s hate of anything even so much as resembling progress. I have lived and worked in countries with high rails – and everyone of them has benefited from it. Even the much lambasted Spanish high speed rail has been economically beneficial for the country as a whole.

    Right now, we have a rail system which is ten years behind the rest of Europe and, by all accounts, a laughing stock. Those who continually say we should just use what we have do not seem to appreciate that most of those lines are now so defunct that to ‘merely’ invest in them will cost more than they are worth to the rail companies, so it will never happen. That is before we even take into account how much disruption it will cause losing these lines down for the extended period needed to do any meaningful work on them.

    One of the biggest arguments against this project is that it will have a detrimental effect on the small towns and other such places on the map, which will be missed by travellers on HS2. Well, to this I have two responses:

    1 – In the modern day how many people realistically go somewhere just because they pass it on a train? (No anecdotal evidence, please.)

    2 – In most countries I have been to, this simply did not occur. The high speed rails were used mostly by businessmen/women and tourists; both these groups do not predominantly go to these smaller towns, anyway. This actually improved services on the normal lines because it freed up capacity, thereby taking stress off these lines which allowed the rail companies to conduct much needed work on them – work that previously could not have occurred due to the disruption it would have caused to business and tourism.

    Do I think HS2 is perfect? no. Do I think the Government’s proposals are perfect? Certainly not. However, I do think this project is a much needed one for our currently defunct rail system.

  • Michael Parsons 29th Oct '13 - 11:33am

    @ RC
    @ LibAl
    I don’t particularly want to go to London, nor see businessmen expensively carted about by rail when they could fly or teleconference. Nor wait for their removal from neareby lines to free up a few more local train seats for me. As to tourists, the conditions on board the high-speed railsystems I have used are so primitive (mess, noisy kids, poor and costly food, unbelievably cramped seats, inadequate luggage space, no personal control of ventilation, delays and unreliable service etc.) they must be a discouragement for all exceot those in pursuit of the quaint.

    I do want to travel locally and also across UK more than up-and-down from London. HS2? What a sadly apt demonstration of Hutber’s Law: “improvement means worse”.

  • daft ha'p'orth 29th Oct '13 - 11:34am

    @Liberal Al
    “Do I think HS2 is perfect? no. Do I think the Government’s proposals are perfect? Certainly not. However, I do think this project is a much needed one for our currently defunct rail system.”
    Isn’t that rather close to saying ‘something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it’? I think most people are in agreement that something must be done, but it’s not unreasonable to be a bit nit-picky when someone drops a plan with a £40 billion+ pricetag in your lap (for something that is already extremely expensive for those who use it) and says ‘this is something, therefore we shall do it and you will spend the rest of your life paying for it’. Discussing the details is totally reasonable, as is discussing alternatives.

  • That the backers of HS2 are having an extraordinary hard time getting their story straight is a bad sign, symptomatic of a project that has achieved a life and momentum of its own quite disconnected from any sound business case.

    Initially this was all about speed (the clue is in the name). Now we are asked to believe that it’s magically transformed into a project about capacity which, as John Whitehouse points out, is a quite different beast. Meanwhile, Channel 4 reports shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh as saying: “Labour has always supported HS2 because we must address the capacity problems that mean thousands of commuters face cramped, miserable journeys into cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London.” Well, yes. But a new intercity line is a very tangential way of tackling a commuter problem.

    The advantage of high speed only really accrues over longer distances than most in the UK which would be fine if passengers from Manchester and Leeds could travel straight through to Paris and Brussels. As it is I imagine they will fly. Then again what about the ticket cost? Surely the greatest need for additional capacity is at the cheaper end and I can’t imagine that HS2 will address that market very well or at all.

    One of the most disappointing aspects of this whole affair is the approach of some politicians. Too many of them seem to imagine that their job is to smuggle the project through the approval process using all the arts of spin and fancy footwork. Not so. They should be critically examining what they are told to see if it makes sense and passes the ‘smell test’ and searching out good advice even if it leads to a change of plan that’s somewhat embarrassing in the short run. That is what we taxpayers pay them for. The reason some projects are so strongly opposed is not, as Liberal Al suggests, because many hate of anything resembling progress, but because proposals too often don’t pass the smell test but get rammed through regardless leaving us all poorer and deeply cynical about politicians’ integrity and/or competence.

  • Alex Macfie 29th Oct '13 - 1:15pm

    @jenny barnes:

    Or provide border control actually on the train between Ashford and Lille? Why not?

    The UK Border Agency (or whatever it’s called these days) won’t do it. I agree, it’s how it should be done, with trains from the UK to mainland Europe functioning exactly as UK domestic trains as far as Ashford (or even Folkestone — why ever not, international trains pass through there) then the border checking would start once the train has pulled out of the last UK station. Without this, or Schengen, there will probably never be any international trains running to/from Great Britain except to/from London.
    @ Michael Parsons:

    …see businessmen expensively carted about by rail when they could fly or teleconference.

    Getting people from air to rail would free up air capacity for long-haul flights that can’t be done by rail. And teleconferencing is all very well, but it’s not the same as physically being somewhere, so can’t always be used as a substitute.

  • £40 billion over 20 years, it’s nothing. We spend more than that EVERY YEAR on debt interest. Imagine if it were spent on transport and energy projects instead. HS2 this year, paid. Three nuclear power station next year, paid. In a few years we would have (paid for) an infrastructure to stand the test of time. Instead we’ll just sit around arguing the toss over a few pennies here and there whilst actually building almost nothing.

  • @Joe Otten

    Do keep up and don’t just regurgitate misrepresentations and highly biased marketing spin!

    If you had paid any attention to the recent spending review (and the rail projects contained within it) and to Network Rails various submissions on HS2 and their strategic plans, you would know that the majority of the upgrades to the existing network will happen regardless of whether HS2 does or doesn’t go ahead. Hence the 14 years of replacement buses is going to happen largely regardless of HS2.

    About the only difference is that with HS2, some of the upgrades can be delayed as the need to gain maximum capacity from the existing infrastructure won’t be so great. However, in many circumstances what this means is that upgrades will occur but the ‘cheaper’ option can be taken, which naturally makes a subsequent upgrade more expensive. (Think like the roof of a modern house, whilst it is cheaper for a builder to put in a truss roof that doesn’t allow for a loft conversion, by doing so they make the loft conversion significantly more expensive than if they had installed a suitable truss roof in the first place.)

    As for the Grand Central line, as I have said many times before there is a costed proposal on the table for the redevelopment of this line by a private consortium, the only thing holding it back is a lack of government desire to provide loan guarantee’s – like they have provided to Grangemouth…

  • Alex Macfie 30th Oct '13 - 9:45am

    It’s GREAT Central, not GRAND Central! Grand Central is an open-access passenger train operation running on the East Coast Main Line.

  • Michael Parsons 30th Oct '13 - 12:00pm

    HS2? Yet again we ask: why do people in the North want an even greater drain of activity to the London area down this proposed line? It will only strengthen the case for abandoning whole towns there like Hull and Middlesborough, as is already being suggested. Afer all, with the Banks needing £trillions of support,the Tory Coalition can’t be expected to take on the poor, the benefit claimants and the forgotten as well, can it?

  • @Martin Lowe
    And for practically the same reasons HS2 is a non-starter, as the land proposed for it’s trackbed is currently being used…

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