Norman Baker MP writes… High Speed 2: Transforming our national rail network

High speed rail Medway - Some rights reserved by Matt's photostreamIn the two centuries since the Golden Age of British railways, from the opening of the Stockton and Darlington line in 1825, Stephenson’s Rocket and the railway boom of the 1840s, Britain has tumbled from the position of being the envy of the world, to lagging sadly behind. The busiest sections of our old Victorian railways are now struggling to cope as the railways become increasingly popular. As anyone who travels regularly by train as I do will know, the West Coast Main Line, East Coast and Midland Main Lines are already creaking at the seams during peak times, and this is only going to get worse over the next twenty years. Yet elsewhere, from Japan’s network of Bullet trains, Germany’s 11 ICE lines, and China’s system which currently boasts the world’s longest high-speed railway line and plans to invest £248bn to complete a 10,000-mile network by 2020, the world has gone high speed.

That’s why it’s so important that the Government is pressing ahead with High Speed 2. This commits us and future governments to transforming our national rail network and providing a national infrastructure that delivers for every part of the country.

I don’t think enough has been made of High Speed 2’s importance to the north. It will be the first major railway to be built north of London in 120 years. This isn’t a railway that will just shuttle business travellers between Birmingham and London, and it’s not about getting to Birmingham twenty five minutes faster. It’s an essential part of our strategy to rebalance the economy. It will halve the journey times between some of our great northern cities: between Birmingham and Leeds, for example, transforming the north into a single economic area. Together with the substantial investment we’ve already announced into the Northern Hub, High Speed 2 will free up capacity on existing lines which will make local journeys for many quicker and more frequent. It will bring in jobs and prosperity for future generations: around world, high speed rail has a glittering record of supporting economic redevelopment. For example, Lyon in France is now at the heart of 5.3 million square feet of office space and 20,000 jobs. And it will connect the north to mainland Europe via High Speed One and the Eurotunnel.

And it’s not just rail links that will benefit. All of our transport links between the North and South are in desperate need of improvement. By shifting an estimated 9 million journeys from road to rail and 4.5 million from air to rail, HS2 will help to ease road congestion, reduce some of the pressure on our airports and cut carbon emissions in the process.

Today’s announcement, on top of the significant package of investment we have already committed to – the biggest investment in rail since the Victorian era – signals an end to the patch-and-mend approach of previous governments, and an end to too many trains squeezed onto too little railway. We should be shouting it from the rooftops: the Liberal Democrats were the first party to commit to high speed rail, and we’re delivering on it now we’re in Government.

* Norman Baker is the MP for Lewes, a Minister of State at the Home Office and formerly Minister in the Department of Transport

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  • Old Codger Chris 28th Jan '13 - 2:21pm

    This news is causing me to re-think my opposition to the plan, which I thought was a hugely costly solution to the problem of overcrowding between London and Birmingham. A commitment to running the line through to Leeds and Manchester puts a different complexion on it. (No I don’t live “up north”).

    My main concern is to what extent the electronic revolution will reduce business travel.

    But fancy a British government building for future generations instead of looking no further than the next election!

  • Alex Macfie 28th Jan '13 - 2:54pm

    HS2 may well connect to HS1 and the Channel Tunnel, but this does not mean that there will be through trains from Birmingham to mainland Europe. That is very unlikely to happen until international passenger trains are allowed to carry domestic UK passengers (preferably without airport-style checkin). International trains to/from the provinces would be running NOW (on classic track in the UK) if mixed domestic/international running were allowed. Until then, they will not be viable, however fast they can run.

  • Alex Macfie 28th Jan '13 - 3:43pm

    being part of the Schengen area would certainly solve the problem at a stroke; however, the usual pre-Schengen practice in mainland Europe was for border controls to be done on the moving train, and international trains still carried domestic passengers in all countries they passed through. I see no reason in principle why it could not be done this way between the UK and France.

  • Sorry Norman HS2 both as orignally proposed (London – Birmingham) and now (extension to Leeds and Manchester) as it stands isn’t a transformation of our rail network, particularly as it will significantly reduce capacity on parts of the existing network. It is as your opening paragraph says merely a “me too” attempt.

    No a real transformation is to throw out the London-centric North-South view of the country and look at the UK&I as part of Europe. It then becomes obvious that what is needed is the ability to run HS trains from Scotland and Ireland through to the continent (yes a tunnel under the Irish Sea is not beyond the abilities of our engineers). And to extend the number of European destinations directly served by Eurostar style of trains.

    You never know France might agree to some significant EU funding…

  • Shame I live in the Westcountry with atrocious service and a track about to fall into the sea in places…..

    We would love to have the service some of the cities to benefit from HS2 already have but have no doubt been pushed down the priorities again.

  • Alex Macfie 28th Jan '13 - 8:35pm

    I support HS2 in principle but I have two main concerns:
    — Why no intermediate station between London and Brum? Having a station in the Chilterns, say, at which some (not all) trains would stop, would give the residents of that region a stake in the project and so reduce NIMBYism. It would still be faster than the classic rail from there.
    — It should not be used as an excuse to run down services on classic lines. France is well known for its excellent TGV services. What is less well known is that the classic lines are often rather poorly served. even in this country, services on the classic tracks to Kent were deliberately slowed down after HS1 domestic services started. It would not be good if the only way of getting from London to Birmingham by train reasonably quickly were on a very expensive HS2 train, because most of the direct services on the classic routes had been discontinued.

  • @Alex for High Speed Rails to work effectively they generally are used as city links with the classic trains servicing the smaller towns and villages between. If the system is done properly, then you should not need for the H2K to stop outside the main cities because the pressure it takes off the smaller lines allows them to offer a better service to the towns and villages. Of course, that is a big if, and even when done properly it does often lead to more transfers for the smaller the unlucky soul goes from say, small village outside London to Birmingham. However, I think the way to overcome that is to make it that you can get a cheaper ticket for train to the nearest H2k station when you are then going onto use the H2K.

  • Perhaps someone can answer this but why doe HS1 go in to St Pancras and HS2 go out of Euston? Couldn’t they have saved passenger the walk down the road, I know it isn’t that far but it would make it much more pleasant to avoid trekking between them.

  • I would want that the ticketing for HS2 services to be integrated fully into the National Rail system, so that the issue of transfers is resolved flexibly for the passenger by providing through tickets valid on connecting services (as is done on HS1: tickets valid only on the classic lines can be upgraded to allow travel on the Highspeed trains). The worst situation would be for it to have a completely separate low-cost-airline type ticketing system, like certain European high-speed rail services.
    The point about having some trains stop at maybe one or two intermediate stations is that otherwise you might get the perverse situation where if travelling from, say, Milton Keynes to Birmingham it’s quicker to double-back to Euston then take HS2 than to go all the way in the right direction on classic track. If people in that part of the country could start their journey northwards then pick up the HS train, then it would be quicker for them and it would make more sense.

  • @Liberal Al
    Your point about stations is a good one, but one the government has driven a “coach and horses” through by the relatively short distances between stations north of Birmingham. Based on the Leeds leg they could easily put two stations along the London-Birmingham section. My expectation is that they will to help buy-off opposition and to create “greenfield” development opportunities, remember HS2’s whole genesis has been politically-based rather than operationally-based.

    The political dimension is illustrated by the stupidity over London, originally HS2 wasn’t going to connect with HS1 and then when it did the connection isn’t designed for high-speed through running and London still has two terminus’s and the vacant land at St.Pancres/Kings Cross for the new London International station – which was a through station based on the Japanese operational experience.

    The other aspect to the political dimension is that politicians (like Baker) are banging the drum about how important it will be to travel between northern cities whilst overlooking the fact that construction of these connections will only begin after the London-Birmingham section – if the country isn’t totally broke by then …

  • Keith Browning 29th Jan '13 - 9:26am

    When/if the plan is completed it will have been well over 60 years after the Japanese and close to 50 years after the French began running HST. Makes you think a little when the British claim to be world leaders at so many things – who is fooling who. Whilst I whole-heartedly support the project, the lead time is enormous and meanwhile hundreds of miles of railway tracks could easily be returned to operation for just a few millions of pounds. The government did announce such a scheme, but very limited. Restore many of the small Beeching lines and you get local solutions, local employment and help everyone, not just the businessmen of the Midlands and the North.

  • David Rogers 29th Jan '13 - 10:20am

    As a Lib Dem member, and as one of Norman’s constituents who also regularly travels by train, I fully support yesterday’s announcement. But Norman, in the article above there’s two mentions of “Victorian” and not a single one of “Victoria”! You use the words “…creaking at the seams during peak times” and “…too many trains squeezed onto too little railway” – both daily experiences for those of your own voters who travel this way, many to work at Gatwick or in London. Not to mention that trains south of London are so much slower than those already available going north; as I experienced yet again last week on a trip to Leicester. Just over 100 miles from St. Pancras in little over an hour, whereas 60+ miles from Victoria to the south coast takes half as long again!
    Finally, I couldn’t agree more with Steve Way’s comment above, about the south west of England – and I don’t mean Bristol, I mean Exeter, Plymouth, and Cornwall.

  • andrew purches 29th Jan '13 - 10:33am

    On balance HST is to be supported, but,and it is a big “but” we need much more than airy promises about the economic benefits to the country. If we could look forward to this being a lynchpin for the industrial regeneration of our economy, to match,if not rival that of Germany’s,or Korea’s,and other booming states, then good. If however,we,with a weakening £ have to import all the hardware,rolling stock,steel and even labour ( though not Irish navvies this time), then there will be little or long term benefit other than debt of a very high order. Manufacturing is the key to any successful economy, and for we British, more so than ever now. Let us just get on with it.

  • Dave Fawcett 29th Jan '13 - 11:37am

    Like many transport upgrade proposals over the years – and this is still only a proposal. I doubt if I’ll live long enough to see it started – it doesn’t go far enough ; literally. The North East with it’s three major cities is, as usual, still being ignored. if the construction of HS2 is going to benefit Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds as much as its proponents claim, it would benefit Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesborough equally.

  • Peter Watson 29th Jan '13 - 12:41pm

    ” It will halve the journey times between some of our great northern cities: between Birmingham and Leeds, for example, transforming the north into a single economic area.”
    Really. Perhaps it would half the journey time if I my journey started and finished at railway stations, but in the real world we work or have customers and suppliers in offices, factories, etc. that might be miles from the city centre. If I have to make my way into one of these cities, wait for a train, and make my way out of the city at the other end, then how much difference will it really make.
    Google Maps tells me I could drive from an office near Birmingham to a factory outside Leeds in 2 hours. Would HS2 save any time on that journey, let alone enough to justify the sort of expenditure being described?

  • Peter Jones 30th Jan '13 - 4:26pm

    “Over a 60-year period…capital and operating costs with a net present value of £44.3 billion, less fare revenues with a net present value of £27.2 billion” (Source: ‘High Speed rail: Investing in Britain’s Future, DfT, February 2011).

    Let’s take some noughts off and put this in terms even I can understand. Here’s the deal – HS2 costs us £44 for every £27 we get back. That’s in real money. So the government whose sine qua non is to reduce the deficit is actually adding to the deficit by £16.1 billion.

    Yes, that ignores the intangible benefits. The trouble with intangible benefits is that they are, er, intangible. And a casual glance at some of these so-called benefits suggests that their value has been seriously inflated.

    Opposition to HS2 is not about the route. It’s about whether HS2 is really value for money. It isn’t.

  • In light of the NAO Report, can we now please accept that there is no case – no case – at all for wasting ££) billion (minimum) on this white elephant?

  • Well said David. Why are we supporting HS2 when we could increase capacity on our networks, in a far shorter timescale, by extending existing platforms to allow longer trains ? In Germany platforms are really long, and you see trains with up to 14 carriages on them. The construction work needed to extend and improve our existing network would add an immediate stimulus into the economy, and would be an investment in longterm infrastructure. More passengers per train would also increase efficiency and reduce costs.

  • David Wilkinson 17th May '13 - 12:25pm

    What a bunch of moaning minnies some of the posters are.

    We should be saying well done to Norman Baker for getting HS2 well underway. The biggest investment for decades, quicker trains, more jobs.
    Thanks to Norman we have got the Northern Hub underway at last, after 13 years of no action under the last Labour government.
    HS2 puts capacity into the system and allow for more growth on local routes
    What we do need is an HS3 to Glasgow and to Edinburgh through the north east cities like Newcastle.
    A fast line through to Bristol and Cardiff and to South West,

    Welcome what’s being delivered by Norman and keep asking for more, the investment in even more lines will be worth it.

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