Opinion: an easy £25 billion to cut

I’m sorry I couldn’t join you at Liverpool, but my absence hopefully left more of the wine lake provided by our generous sponsors for the rest of you. As ‘cuts’ were in the air and in your conversations. I’d like to suggest an easy one.

HS2. Or High Speed (Rail) 2 to give its full title. The proposed new high speed rail link from London past Birmingham to the great cities of the North, such as Leeds. I’m told it may go near somewhere called Manchester as well on its way to Scotland.

Now I am no engineer. If the folk that know what they are talking about say the thing will cost £25,500,000,000 to build I’m happy to accept that as what it costs. That is however twenty five and a half billion pounds at a time when we are supposed to be cutting the deficit.

I am however, a salesman and I know a dodgy sales forecast when I see one. Remember the Millennium Dome? This has all the makings of Millennium Dome Two. The problem with the Dome was they got the sales forecast wrong. I think they reckoned a million people a month would visit, 12 million in the year. In fact they got about seven million total. Those five million customers that didn’t show up were the difference between spectacular success and a by-word for embarrassing government failure.

It’s the same with HS2. Take a look at the revenue and benefits forecasts. It’s all about customers that are going to multiply faster than the beasts from Noah’s ark, paying prices that they can’t afford from salaries they won’t be earning. And of course all the supposed benefits are given a monetary value, but all the associated costs, er, aren’t.

Respected journalist and author Christian Wolmar, a big name in railway writing circles, has said “Expensive projects like this simply cannot make a rate of return. [The line] will not make a profit and will need continued subsidy.”

Surely at a time when we are supposed to be cutting the budget deficit, there is little point in investing some £25,500,000,000 if there is not going to be a financial return. If the line runs at a loss that will add further to the deficit. That is just silly.

So there you have it. We can ‘save’ all that money. Easy one.

For what it’s worth, all three main parties are committed to HS2. But in the woods people are stirring. Check out the Conservative Home blog which is a a real criticism within the Tories of the chosen route from Tony Lodge of the Bow Group who studied the history of HS1.

Mr Lodge has, however, missed the real point. It doesn’t matter which route the thing takes. What matters is not to build it at all.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

68 Comments

  • Julia Hayward 23rd Sep '10 - 2:02pm

    At a time when budgets are being squeezed, it seems doubly wrong that minor quick-win projects are being put on the backburner to allow HS2 in front. Let’s not forget very few people’s journeys are precisely from Euston to New Street… and HS2 provides little advantage to the rest if, when you get to the shiny new station you have to wait for an hour for an investment-starved all-stations connection to where you actually wanted to go to. Developing a reliable network, with a sensible fares policy, regular services between all major towns (including the big ones that Beeching disconnected from the rest) and enough capacity for demand, would do just as much to woo people off other modes of transport and cost far less.

  • Colin Green 23rd Sep '10 - 2:10pm

    One of the justifications for high speed rail is that it is more environmentally sound than air travel. True enough, so long as your high speed rail goes where people fly to and goes from where they are. The centralist air industry in the UK demands that international flights are concentrated in Heathrow and Gatwick. HS2 must go to Heathrow for this to be true. It doesn’t quite get to Heathrow. Most people who fly to Heathrow don’t come from Birmingham. There are no direct flights. The Birmingham phase of HS2 fails this test on both counts. Perhaps when it is extended to Manchester and points north…

    The other feature of high speed rail is that it is fast. Fast in a way that private cars are not allowed to be. This counters the built in disadvantage of public transport that door to door it is fairly slow due to connection times and getting to and from the station. 180 MPH trains get you there much faster than a car so there is time to travel from the station to your destination. This is good. If we want people to move from car to train, the train has to be better at something. Beating drivers with a stick hasn’t worked and can never work. You have to make them want to switch. Time saving can do just that.

    Now we have to work out if there are enough people in the environs of London and Birmingham who want to travel to the other. The existing rail routes are very busy, as are the M1 – M6 and the M40. There’s potential but compare to an expanded route. The extension to Manchester is projected to cost much less than the Birmingham phase – It is nearer and there are no tunnels needed. You get Birmingham – London, Manchester – London and Birmingham – Manchester travellers. More than double the number of travellers for less than double the cost. So why not do this? We’re in a financial squeeze and £25bn is a lot, never mind £40bn. It makes sense to get the first stage open and get some passengers paying fares, then start work on the second phase. So long as we do start the second phase, otherwise the return on the investment will be worse than it ultimately could be.

    A final thought on subsidy. If HS2 is beneficial to the country, is it so wrong that the country contributes a little for this benefit? Even if the subsidy is only needed whilst a proper high speed network is rolled out nationwide?

  • OK, it just might make a slow start, but I thought the main point about high speed rail is the potential for pulling passengers away from air travel and the car, therefore saving carbon emissions? Anyone who knows anything about rail internationally knows that “subsidies” are a fact of life. This is public infrastructure for goodness sake. I agree with Julia about the need to invest in rail as a whole. We should be building new rail, to ensure we don’t just return to “same old, same old” after our double dip recession.

  • John Richardson 23rd Sep '10 - 2:22pm

    Yes, but what will it do for businesses? Government coffers could still benefit, via increased tax revenues rather than fares, if the presence of the line stimulates or enables economic growth. Being able to get quickly from the north to London makes establishing businesses in the north more attractive.

  • So a long term major investment project with potential returns that are:

    (a) not possible to reduce to simple profit and loss
    (b) could last decades, if not centuries,

    should be put on hold, like all the other things that Britain has failed to invest in long term?

    This is the very LAST kind of project we should be cutting in a world where oil prices are likely to rise and reserves may be depleted within 30 years.

    Not only that, but fast national rail connections will be essential to rebalancing the economy away from London towards Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle etc.

    Short termism is the British disease and this kind of approach shows it is just as virulent as ever. How can we criticise business for short time horizons when even our own government doesn’t look beyond the end of its nose?

    I hang my head in despair at this.

  • Government investment in infrastructure is vital during an economic slowdown. High Speed Rail will bring massive long term benefits to the UK, including engineering jobs during building, reduced carbon emissions, reduced travel times to London hopefully encouraging less centralisation of business and government in London and increased competitiveness with Europe (where train travel is faster and cheaper than in the UK).

  • The HS2 should definitely be cancelled, especially since the current route takes it through the Chilterns, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and important wildlife area. (And no, I do not live in the vicinity of the HS2 so have no vested interest.)

    It is deeply depressing that every day the Lib Dems are sounding more and more like the Conservatives – the top consideration is tax revenues and economic growth and to hell with the environmental consequences. I remember a time in the past when the Lib Dems claimed to be a ‘green party’. Huh!

    If the HS2 is to be built then it should be constructed along the central reservation and two adjacent lanes of the M1 motorway (which hence would have reduced capacity). This would not only stop further destruction of open countryside, but it would also give the railway a competitive edge over the motorway. Win-win!

  • As for the environmental case respondents are putting, sorry HS2 would be 35% MORE polluting than car travel -masses more energy are needed to get that speed, and that’s if the passenger forecast is right. If the passenger forecast isn’t right -that 267% increase- HS2 could actually be more polluting than air travel.
    Sorry care to back that up with any actual figures because it sounds like complete bollocks to me.

  • My main concern is the impact on the Chilterns, particularly the area around Great Missenden. There are few largely unspoilt towns within 30 miles of London, unsullied by hideous supermarkets, low-grade office buildings and poorly planned residential sprawl. Great Missenden is one of those, and I think it is worth keeping it like that. (Chequers is just a short distance from the proposed route, David Cameron please note.)

    When the M40 was extended to Birmingham in the 1970s, a compromise was found that avoided the destruction of Otmoor, Bernwood Forest and Beckley Hall, by nothing more radical than a curve in the motorway’s route. Surely a similar deal could be struck in this case?

    I am no civil engineer, but I can see obvious difficulties in building high-speed train tracks over motorways. The M40 has two very steep hills (between Loudwater and High Wycombe and Stokenchurch and Aston Rowant), and the M1 has numerous bridges, powerlines, etc, and passes close to residential areas, as at Luton.

  • High speed rail has always been a ridiculous proposition… and I am utterly gobsmacked that any of my Lib Dem comrades could be so silly as to support it.

    From a purely utilitarian standpoint, that 25 billion used to ‘err, maybe, perhaps, oneday stop people using cars so much and adding to carbon emissions’ is just stupid.

    Not only can you make a respectable argument that the decrease in car use and carbon emissions will happen to an extent to be non-negligible that 25 billion could be spent on other ‘green’ projetcs in ways that are literally millions of times as cost effective.

    As someone who lives in Kent and has the ‘privilege’ of using the HS1 line, I can tell you that it is pretty naff. The train isn’t even permitted to run at high speeds until it leaves certain districts, meaning that it only becomes ‘fast’ when you are about 50 minutes from London by a regular train. The increased speed at that point cuts the journey to about 35-40 minutes.

    High speed rail might be an ‘improvement’, just as buying a grossly over-priced computer might be an ‘improvement’ but when you only need that computer for Microsoft WOrd, any improvement is a total waste of money.

    As it is with trains, the argument that people will being to choose trains because HS1 is faster than cars doesn’t work, simply because travelling by train is ALREADY (strictly speaking) faster than taking the car in most cases. People don’t use cars purely (or even mostly) because of their speed but because of their convenience. There is NO demand to have faster running trains.

    Then you simply have the irrational old habits. Drivers will continue mostly driving purely because it gives them control and they want to. Commuters will continue communting because trains, high speed or no, are the most cost effective and fastest ways of quickly getting to city centres. By increasing train speed you won’t really win any motorists over.

    Improving something just for the sake of imprving it is pointless…. there has to be a genuine need or demand, and neither exist for high speed trains. Sure if we have infinite money we should spend money on imprvoing anything. SInce we don’t have infinite money we should spend money on projects which will be far more cost effective and have a far greater benefit to society at large.

    This project is exactly equivalent to the millenium dome in stupidity. It is a populist ‘hi-tech’ project designed to win votes from I-Pad owning morons and to make transport secretaries feel important. It is a stupid project passed at vast cost to the country for no conceivable benefit because Tories and Labour politicians like playing with train sets.

    Perhaps the worst aspect of this is the same as the worst aspect of the privitisation of the train service, and the short sighted continued policy of priviatising the post office. After the taxpayer has paid out 25 billion (a comparitively huge sum, when the defecit is 150 billion approx) for this infantile project we will then be expected to pay for the losses of a private company because the idea is so incredibly stupid. Why do people not understand that when we subsidise failing companies we are socialising all the losses and privatising all the gains, and encouraging private companies to continue with inefficient and dodgy practices whilst, since the service has been privatised, the governemnt and thus the taxpayer can excercise no power over how their money is being spent.

    The taxpayer pays 25 billion to make high speed rail, and subsidises it… but on the extremely low chance that high speed makes a profit, the profit will be in the hands of the company and not back to the taxpayer. Utterly ridiculous.

    To essential serivices like the postal service and the train services the government should either nationalise and excercise fiscal responsibility and control, or let private companies fail at running necessary services that always make a loss,. What the government definetely should not be doing is privatising services only to end up having to pay money to subsidise private companies in order to prevent the national service collapsing. Privatised companies are even more inefficient at running than the public sector, and they feel secure that their losses will be met by the government. They operate with grossly unfair differences in pay (thus become more financially inefficient) and the government paying for that only increases the practise. Any profits are of course lapped up by shareholders and middle management whilst the taxpayer sees little improvement in return for the subsidies.

    That is why we now have a situation where the governemnt is paying more to SUBSIDISE rail companies than it paid to operate them when they were nationalised.

    The idea of the taxpayer paying for this laughable project would be risible at the best of times. yet quite frankly, witht ethe line the Conservatives and now (to my regret) the Liberal are taking, This is frankly immoral. If the Liberals got this scrapped you could easily pay the student fees of every student in England with 5 billion pounds at your disposal. You could pay for lloans to beneifical manufacturing projects, all the ones that the Con/Libs scrapped. like Sheffield forgemasters. You could pay the entire welfare bill without alteration. You could do all this and have money left over to pay on a far more effectual ecology project (such as insulation)… or you could use the leftovers to foot the entire science research bill. You could use the money to pay down the defecit, which Osbourne and co seem so keen on doing.

    This project is immoral and any Lib Dem in parliament who supports it is immoral especially in regards to their election campaign, Lib Dems on the ground who support it must just be unaware of the arguments or alien to the concept of utilitarian governance.

    Why is this stupid thing going forward? I don’t even think most voters even really care about it! Is it more financial sector lobbying?

    Is the government completely insane?

  • “Railways are much more carbon efficient than roads due to the low friction interface (steel on steel is much better than rubber on tarmac) and due to the face that even burning fossil fuels to produce electricity is far more carbon efficient than an internal combustion engine. ”

    Biut that is completely irrelevant, with 25 billion extra you could find a way of cutting carbon emissions thousands of times as more cost effective. Just because it is faster it does not mean it will actually attract motorists.

    Even in your wildest dreams, if building this monstrosity made any sense whatsoever, surely whilst we are being lectured (and lecturing) about benefit thieves and wanton public sector spending on doctors and policemen…. surely the MORALLY consistent thing to do would be to put off the project until AFTER the deficit has been reduced. You know, the deficit the Conservatives want to cut to zero in 5 years. 25 billion would be a massive chunk from that. HS2 probably wouldn’t be completed for 10 years anywya, with all the incompetence you get with these projects, so there is no immediate need to pay for it now whilst we are being bored to death hearing the Tory line on the defecit and reckless government spending.

    If anything, ironically, paying HS indicates to me that the Tory stance, and apparently our stance, is entirely ideological. The service is a massive twaste of money, but is being paid for because it is effectively neutral to Conservative ideology (and sits well with their innate stupidity) and it could maybe win a couple of votes from total fools.Although since Labour supports it too, its hardly going to win votes from one side to the other The electoral advantage is minsicule, the social economic advantages are even smaller.

    COnservatives wont, on the other hand, pay for public services or progressive services which chiefly benefit the poor both because it is inimical to their ideology and it doesn’t suit their voters demographic.

  • While many of the posts have made me go wtf, are liberals really saying high speed rail is bad, I thought I’d just address the post by Rob who has somehow missed out that that £25 billion isn’t over a single year, but the total construction cost over many years. His argument is mostly stupid when you take this into account.

    I think you are pretty stupid if you cant adress the myriad points I made. My main argument relied on showing that however much this daft thing cost, it was an utter wate of public finances

    The building on high speed rail is done with contracts with various corporations, meaning much of the money will be paid in large installments and not ‘gradually’

    The 25% public sector funding cuts are not being reduced in ‘a single year’…the public sector is being reduced at 5% per year. SO even if this was ‘gradual’ then that money saved could be used reduce some of those cuts being made each year.

    If you are talking about the defecit, you are right in saying that you couldn’t take away 25 billion from the deficit simply by axing the project. Yet 25 billion over the period of the parliament WOULD put a dent in the deficit, and the money saved could esaily be used to cost the things that I suggested were more socially valuable and cost effective.

    Come back to me when you ahve a decent rebuttal of my argument. In what sense is this project a good idea?

  • What a tirade of spurious, ill thought out arguments there are here. Presumably the same ones as were advanced when the first railways were built 180 years ago.

    HS2 is needed because we are running out of capacity on our existing railways. They are full up! The extra capacity is needed to put freight on the rails and take it off the roads.

    Basically, everyone arguing against HS2 is saying that everyone else in Europe – Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium etc. etc – has got their transport policy wrong in building high speed rail and we can just pootle along at 125mph like 35 years ago ad infinitum.

    Completely nuts!

  • Basics of the matter:

    How is it justifiable to axe public services whilst funding this tripe?

    This clearly reveals the ideological bent around spending cuts, when useful services are cut ‘for the deficit’ but hopeless projects are left untouched.

  • @ Rob

    If you think long term investment on a major piece of national infrastructure with huge potential economic benefits is a “hopeless project”, then I can see why you might be concerned about this.

    However, as far as high speed rail goes, you seem to have got the “basics of the matter” utterly wrong.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Sep '10 - 6:12pm

    I find it incomprehensible that we should be arguing about whether to do this or not.

    We should build this.

    The infrastructure will exist and be in use a century from now. It will guarantee a large number of jobs in the short to medium term. It will knit our country closer together. It will help tie in the north to the wealth to be found in the south. It will help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. It will expand the capacity of our rail network, taking passengers of the roads, meaning less pressure to cover ever more of our countryside with tarmacadam. It will advertise our country better, too. Shiny trains with plush upholstery impress people coming to our country; that in itself can improve our influence in the world and can perhaps also swing inward investment.

    Possibly it will lose money in the simplistic analysis of fares received versus investment capital required. I think that is rather missing the point.

    I do wonder, though, whether it should terminate at St. Pancras or at Paddington or Heathrow, rather than at Euston.

  • “HS2 is needed because we are running out of capacity on our existing railways. They are full up! The extra capacity is needed to put freight on the rails and take it off the roads.”

    Do you ahve any idea oabout what you are talking about? We would only ‘run out of capacity’ if trains were currently running at the shortest intervals they could be running (they are not) and with totally filled trains (they are not).

    “Presumably the same ones as were advanced when the first railways were built 180 years ago.”

    If you cannot see that there is no equivalence then I am afraid you are a fool. Trains were bult to fufill a demand for high speed travel that was present at the time (and they were implemented before the advent of the motor car)…. there is no indication that there is a real demand for even higher speed travel than we currently have. If there was a real demand for that, then HS1 would be making a project, which it isn’t, and HS2 would be estimated to make a profit, which it isn’t.

    There is always things that can be ‘improved’ with money, but as money is not infinite the government has to ask itself ‘what is the most effective way of improving things in society’… depending on your ideology that differs. To see the stupidity of high speed rail does not depend on your ideology, but your intelligence and your emotional maturity.

    WHy don’t we waste 25 billion more of taxpayers money on placing a policeman outside every person’s house. For most people that would be an ‘improvement’ but it would be entirely ridiculous in terms of cost-effective improvement.

  • Robert C,

    “The extra capacity is needed to put freight on the rails and take it off the roads.”

    Oh gosh. Have you noticed where the really big warehouses are located? Next to motorways, not railways. Freight by road has flexibility that railways cannot provide. Besides, most of the loading bays were flogged off years ago. It would be nice if we could transport freight by rail, but I cannot see how it is going to work. High-speed trains will need to be light, so they are unlikiely to be very suitable for freight.

  • @Paul McKeown

    “The infrastructure will exist and be in use a century from now. It will guarantee a large number of jobs in the short to medium term. It will knit our country closer together.It will help tie in the north to the wealth to be found in the south. It will help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. It will expand the capacity of our rail network, taking passengers of the roads, meaning less pressure to cover ever more of our countryside with tarmacadam. It will advertise our country better, too. Shiny trains with plush upholstery impress people coming to our country; that in itself can improve our influence in the world and can perhaps also swing inward investment.”

    The problem with your arguments, as with most of the arguments here, are that they are based on spurious qualitative assumptions based on what people will or will not do, and what they will or will not like. When deciding government policy clearly quantative arguments are prefferable to wooly idealistic thinking.

    The fact is that HS1 was a failure, both in the fact that its building massively exceeded its budget, and that there was no demand for it.

    By all means, repalce the trains to make them nice, make them run on tigheter schedules etc. nThat will cost no where near 25 billion, and it is not a national priority.

    That is the point of my argument, even if this was viable spending it is an incredibly low priority, especially when we are being lectured over the terrible defecit and the needs to cut public services.

    “It will help tie in the north to the wealth to be found in the south.”

    That is merely a presumption, which no government policy should be based on.

    Lets be realistic, people in the north don’t work in the South 1.. becasue with high speed rail or no high speed rail, the distances are simply too great. 2. there aren’t enough available jobs in the city at pay grades which make it worthwhile to commute for the vast majority of northern people.

    “taking passengers of the roads, meaning less pressure to cover ever more of our countryside with tarmacadam. ”

    But will it really take pressure off the roads? You have no evidence to support that. HS1 has certainly made no noticeable difference because there was no demand for it. Most motorists are motorists not due to speed but due to convenience. Most commuters are communters both due to speed an convenience. You would please some commuters but would not likely attract many motorists. Even if you did, it would not make enough of the difference to change ‘tarmacadum’.

    “Possibly it will lose money in the simplistic analysis of fares received versus investment capital required. I think that is rather missing the point.”

    Yes but fares received are a good indicator of whether there is any demand for the project. If there was a demand for HS1 and HS2 then they would be profitable if they made a genuine difference to how people travelled.

    In any case, as I pointed out, it is a bad idea to subsidise public services run by private companies. We now pay more in subsidies to rail companies than we paid when they were nationalised. The Tories will most definetely not nationalise rail, for purely ideological reasons.

  • Before the railways were built, freight could only be transported by sea (points A and B had to be on the coast), or by canal (frightfully slow). Passenger travel before the railways was severely restricted. One was limited to small, unsprung coaches running over potholed roads, with horses that had to be changed every 12 miles, and the ever-present risk of highwaymen. The railways got you from London to Bath in a morning where it had previously taken two days.

  • @ Rob and @ Sesenco

    Have a look at what has happened to usage levels on our railways in terms of passenger numbers and freight transport before mouthing off. We are running out of capacity.

    Neither of you seem to have any idea what you are talking about.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/7393850/Capacity-crisis-looms-for-Britains-railways.html
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8071249.stm
    http://www.freightonrail.org.uk/FactsFigures.htm

  • @ Rob

    HS1 – “no demand for it”.

    What are you on about? So much “no demand for it” that new services are planned for Frankfurt, Cologne, Amsterdam. etc. That kind of “no demand for it”?

  • I hope you may continue to forgive the spelling. 🙂

    “Basically, everyone arguing against HS2 is saying that everyone else in Europe – Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium etc. etc – has got their transport policy wrong in building high speed rail and we can just pootle along at 125mph like 35 years ago ad infinitum.”

    Their transport policies are not all equivalent, in some cases there may be a genuine demand for higher speed rail and a genuine need due to spacing of towns and cities. All estimates show that high speed rail will make a loss, and as such there is no demand. As a left-winger I am amused to be using basic market arguments to defeat the silliness of right wing Tory support for this project.

    I see no evidence, in any case, that these countries are not being run by the same un-scientific and economically disinterested segway-saints and I-Pad evangelists that our country is evidentially being run by.

    ‘Hi Tech’ for the sake of ‘Hi Tech’ sounds nice, and might even win a few votes, but it is not a ‘priority’. It is probably largelly being done due to the stranglehold city workers and commuters hold over the government (fast trains for workers in the financial sector). Undue influence and lobbying which promotes a low priority policy and makes it a national agenda. Governments always seem to find the money when the right people want something.

    Or it might just be a case of governments wanting to feel they have elft a ‘legacy’, just a Blair left his ‘legacy’ witht eh Milleniium DOme and the Iraq war.

    The basic logic of that argument is flawed. Just because other countries do it, that does not mean they are right. If we cannot find reasons of our own to do it, it should not happen.

    Other countries went to war with Iraq. Was it impossible that they were not correct?

  • @ Sesenco

    BTW, You really have not looked into the arguments behind this AT ALL have you?

    The point about freight is that high speed rail takes passenger trains off the conventional railways and frees up capacity for freight to travel at lower speeds. Pathways ARE a constraint at the moment and that would help free up capacity for freight growth, which at the moment is being held back.

  • “All estimates show that high speed rail will make a loss, and as such there is no demand.”

    All WHICH estimates?

    Any actual facts?

    Thought not.

  • “What are you on about? So much “no demand for it” that new services are planned for Frankfurt, Cologne, Amsterdam. etc. That kind of “no demand for it”?”

    There is no demand for it in OUR country. I have no idea about Germany.

    If there was a demand for it, it would make a profit.

    We are back to square one with this argument. ‘These people say it is right…. so it must be true’ or ‘The goverment says we need it, so you can’t doubt them’. Why not? If they can’t justify other than by appeals to what is happening in other countries, then there is really no justification.

    The ‘capacity crisis’, in question, as far as I can tell, is not related to the potential capacity of our railways, but what they are at now. That is to say, with the current number of trains running, there might eventually be a capacity crisis.

    In any case, a capacity crisis with railways does not mean that we should build an expensive high speed line. In addition capacity with railways is less of a problem then capacity with motorways.

    If a train is so full that you can’t catch it, you can catch the next one. If the government increases the number of trains running to max capacity, then the next one will only be ina few moments.If motorway capacity is full, then everyone is truly fudged.

    There is a reason capacity isn’t used as an argument by most people for high speed rail, that is because it is a sub optimal way of dealing with the problem. If we ever truly reach full capacity (trains running at the shortest distances apart that they can) then we can just build new, ordinary, lines to places where they are needed. Instead of high speed trains and high speed railways.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Sep '10 - 6:55pm

    @Rob

    Your arguments strike me as knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    Frankly, we should have done this thirty or forty years ago.

    Happily the Victorians understood the value of infrastructure, but since their era, short termist thinking has blighted our economy and our politics.

  • @ Paul McKeown

    I would question your assertion about Rob’s knowledge about the price of anything, but apart from that, I second your thoughts.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Sep '10 - 7:03pm

    @Rob

    “There is no demand for it in OUR country.”

    That is nonsense. I demand it. I will use it. Millions of others will, too.

    If you have evidence that people in Birmingham and London will not travel between the two cities using this link, then I think you should present it to Philip Hammond.

    No?

    I thought not.

    You are just making an emotional projection.

  • This project is going to cost a huge amount of money. There are several assumptions in the HS2 Ltd’s report which are uncertain. Sometimes we as a country need to invest in game changing infrastructure. It is a matter of picking the right ones. Investing in high speed internet rather than high speed trains would most likely benefit many more people. It would generate jobs around the country rather than focus on benefitting the people who will be able to afford the premiums required to travel by HS2. HS2’s says that high speed is not the biggest issue, but capacity is. Capacity can be gained without this such high speed (remember 250mph is not seen elsewhere in the World). Less high speed requires less engineering cost. Also, lower speed trains are more carbon beneficial. 250mph trains require a huge amount of power to attain and keep these speeds. The high speeds require straight lines. The straight lines required for 250mph have most environmental impact because of restricted route options.

    It is worth reading the HS2 report and recommendations yourself to see whether the assumptions stack-up in your mind. You can find it here. . The counter argument can be found here in overview and in detail here .

    They are worth reading. Don’t forget it really is your money and not “the government’s”. It will be found by taxing people and corporations – much of it coming from people that won’t benefit from it – like the poorest parts of the UK for instance.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Sep '10 - 7:08pm

    “If a train is so full that you can’t catch it, you can catch the next one.”

    Unbelievable.

    “Oh, sorry, boss. Rob wanted to annoy the Lib Dems, so those shiny news trains never got built. Just had to wait another half hour at New Street, then that train was overcrowded, too, so I ended up getting on the crappy stopping train after that one.”

    Catch the next one might apply to suburban services. It certainly doesn’t apply to intercity routes.

  • Robert C

    “Neither of you seem to have any idea what you are talking about.”

    Ad hominem insults won’t win you the argument. Credible answers to my questions might.

    Let’s take retail logistics. Few supermarkets and convenience stores are located anywhere near railways, nor could they be. Neither are the warehouses that supply them. The latter are built close to motorways, and the wagons take them through the primary road network to the supermarkets and convenience stores, most of which have loading bays. It is fast and efficient, and the larger the vehicles, the less fuel gets burned up. On top of that, warehouses supply each other, and goods are cross-docked on the loading bays. None of this could be done by rail. Simply impossible.

    OK, Robert C, explain how I am wrong.

  • Robert C

    BTW, I am not against railways taking freight. I just don’t see how it is going to work. And I am not against high-speed trains per se. If there is demand for them, and they could be built without causing huge environmental and cultural damage, then go ahead and cover the country with them.

    You seem to assume that those who question your claims are either stupid or wicked. It might be that some of us have a natural resistance to propaganda and want to get to the facts before we endorse a hugely expensive infrastructure project.

  • I’m a bit concerned at how the anti-HS2 crowd here is being so personal and not actually backing up their claims. It’s making this all a bit unpleasant.

  • @Paul

    “Oh, sorry, boss. Rob wanted to annoy the Lib Dems, so those shiny news trains never got built. Just had to wait another half hour at New Street, then that train was overcrowded, too, so I ended up getting on the crappy stopping train after that one.”

    Catch the next one might apply to suburban services. It certainly doesn’t apply to intercity routes.

    DId you read what I wrote?

    If trains were running at max capacity then the times between trains would be much reduced (i.e. potentially a 5 minute difference between trains), then I don’t think it would be totally unreasonable to set out to get an earlier train, but then get the next train in five minutes. It is incovenient, but not a real priority of the government at this time.

    My REAL point is this, if you shorten the time between trains, there will be exponentially less people on each train… because they won’t be as many waiting for the next train at each station. Taking this into account means that we are some way away from truly reaching ‘max capacity’.

  • ““There is no demand for it in OUR country.”

    That is nonsense. I demand it. I will use it. Millions of others will, too.

    If you have evidence that people in Birmingham and London will not travel between the two cities using this link, then I think you should present it to Philip Hammond.”

    It is not emotional nonsense, youa re the one being emotional. It is just utilitarian common sense.

    YOU may demand it, you may demand free teddy bears for all I care…. it doesn’t mean the government should be persuaded to provide them for you at cost to the taxpayer.

    What I mean is ‘there is not ENOUGH demand for it’. I know this because I know that HS1 in England has turned a loss, if there was a genuine use for the majority of people in the South of England for HS1 it would turn a profit.

    I see no reason why anything would be different in the north. Even if it would be, here is the crux of my argument, it would not be a national priority. The benefits of the taxpayer paying for such a system seem infintesimal in comparison to the benefits most taxpayers would get if that money was spent on public services.

    My main argument is this. Why are the coalition governemnt pursuing something which is of far ess benefit to the average Briton than if the money was spent elsewhere?

    In any case, this thing is probably going to go ahead, so because everyone seems to completely go head over heals over the idea, and skepticism is suppressed, if this website exists in 10-15 years time we can talk about how great HS2 was. Just like we do now about the Millenium dome. I think I will be right.

  • BTW it was not my intention to be offensive. I am sorry if I am being overly belligerent, it is because (in my mind) it is a foolish policy. I can understand why other people don’t feel the same way, I’m just not convinced by their arguments.
    Much of my belligerence is ‘in jest’ as it were, you would have to kow me to get my sense of humour … but my intention is not so much to offend as to chortle.

  • Unbelievable to see supposed lib dems arguing that the train system works brilliantly on the continent, and in Japan and soon China, will not work for some reason in the country that invented trains. Unbelievable. As others have said, thank god the Victorians werent persuade by this nonsense.

  • Unbelievable to see supposed lib dems arguing that the train system works brilliantly on the continent, and in Japan and soon China, will not work for some reason in the country that invented trains. Unbelievable. As others have said, thank god the Victorians werent persuade by this nonsense.

    Can you provide a convincing argument for why we need it and why it would work here?

    No one else on this site has done yet.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Sep '10 - 9:12pm

    @Rob

    “What I mean is ‘there is not ENOUGH demand for it’. I know this because I know that HS1 in England has turned a loss, if there was a genuine use for the majority of people in the South of England for HS1 it would turn a profit.”

    You must have missed John Ruddy’s informative post at 6:47 p.m.. Let me reproduce the salient part:

    I see some people have questioned whether we should build it if the BCR falls below 2. I will spell that out – a BCR means that the rate of return is 200% – it produces twice as much benefit as it costs. (Oh and by the way, the £25billion is for the full length line to Scotland, not the London-Birmingham bit which will take 5 years to build). Are you really saying that you wont have a project which will not only return its money, but return it over again – you’re not going ahead with a project which makes a PROFIT of £25billion!? On economic grounds alone the project should go ahead, and should be started now.

  • Paul McKeown 23rd Sep '10 - 9:15pm

    “If trains were running at max capacity then the times between trains would be much reduced (i.e. potentially a 5 minute difference between trains), then I don’t think it would be totally unreasonable to set out to get an earlier train, but then get the next train in five minutes.”

    There is only so much capacity that the current system can take. Are you suggesting that signalling technology and safety considerations would permit trains every five minutes between London and Birmingham? And that there are sufficient platforms to accommodate them?

  • David Allen 23rd Sep '10 - 9:50pm

    “Unbelievable” “Neither of you seem to have any idea what you are talking about.” “That is nonsense”.

    Deep breath. Once upon a time, this party did not believe in ideologically driven decision making. Once upon a time, this party researched the facts before sounding off.

    We’ve gone backwards, haven’t we?

  • I didn’t miss John Ruddy’s post above, and it wasn’t saleint. I never said anything about BCR, or waht it is predicted to be in regards to HS2.

    Of course saying that we will benefit from any profit made (which won’t be made) doesn’t take in regard my earlier argument, which is that when you subsidise private companies that run public services you are socialising the losses and subsidising the gains.

    Here is an article about the silliness of the proposes high speed rail line in the states. You might ahve thought in a country with great distances between towns high speed rail would seem like a less absurd investment.

    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/04/the-trouble-with-high-speed-rail/

    Many of the criticisms carry over to what we are doing.

    If you want to see a detailed economic debunking of the plans scroll down in the website I give you below. I challenge you to come up with an effective economic argument that shows how high speed won’t result in a loss to the taxpayer. It also shows that estimates based on BCR are parochial and do not account for various costs, some of which are incremental.

    http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/hs2-reports.htm

  • socialising the losses and subsidising the gains.

    should be “socialising the losses and privatising the gains”.

  • Below is the economic argument lifted from the second articlehttp://www.transport-watch.co.uk/hs2-reports.htm. You may try to refute it if you wish.

    The benefit to cost ratios (BCR) of 2.4 and 2.7, at rows (12) and (13), in this table are substantially above the minimum value of 1.5 at which the scheme would be accepted. The BCR for wider network excluding the link from Newcastle to Edinburgh is 2.3, which is similarly encouraging. However:

    1. (Obviously) the benefits depend on the very high forecasts cited above.
    2. Sensitivity tests (main report paragraphs 4.4.5 and 4.4.8) show that if the annual growth in demand were reduced by 25%, from 3.6% to 2.7%, or if the demand were curtailed at the 2026 level then the benefit to cost ratio would fall below the necessary value of 1.5.
    3. Revenues or incremental fares of £15 bn are subtracted from costs. Those fares depend on where the economic boundary is drawn. Network Rail was selected, so as to represent the costs as the cost to the Government. However, we are interested in the cost to the nation. Hence, the correct place for the boundary is not round “the Government” but round the economy as a whole. If the latter is selected incremental fares fall to zero. Likewise the Indirect Taxes of minus £1.5 bn should be struck out. The BCRs then falls to 1.125, with no WEIs and to 1.27 with the WEIs, both far below the desired value of 1.5.
    Since first publishing this note, May 2010, the DfT has effectively thown in the sponge on this issue, see the note below. The consequence is that no railway scheme is ever likely to pass the cost benefit test.
    4. The value of time is assumed to grow exponentially for ever at circa 1.8% per year (different rates apply to different periods and for work and leisure time, see the WEBTAG). We estimate that if that is set to zero the benefits would be halved.
    5. Likewise fares, in so far as they are relevant, are inflated at 1% above inflation (paragraph 2.14 of the base line forecasting report) and GDP growth is set to 2%. That introduces two other contentious factors.
    6. Our calculations (see spread sheet) show that about 40% of the benefits are derived from the later 30 years of the 60 year evaluation period ending in 2085. Many people believe that benefits from such a remote future should not be included. If they are not the benefit to cost ratio would again fall below the desired value of 1.5.

    Any one of the above factors may destroy the economic case for the proposal. Taken together they are overwhelming.

  • Note this in particular at point 3.

    Since first publishing this note, May 2010, the DfT has effectively thown in the sponge on this issue, see the note below. The consequence is that no railway scheme is ever likely to pass the cost benefit test.

    The dft is the department for transport. They are essentially admitting that high speed one is more economically damaging than beneficial.

    The desire for high speed one is driven by propaganda and seems to appeal mainly to futurists. The reality is that the money would be much better spent somewhere else.

    You need to provide arguments as to hwo it would be cost effective an beneficial to the UK taxpyaer. Other countries are irrelevant, if you can’t justify it don’t bother trying to justify it because other countries make the decision. In fact, I think that is part of the problem. The whole thing has become about European countries ‘keeping up with the competition’ in terms of building the most irrelevant high speed rail links. It is also partly diplomatic I suppose, as we want to show our solidarity with a European-wide fad with high speed rail and rather be part of that then risk being out of the loop, even if it is economic idiocy (government ministers always care abput prestige before the economy, because you can bet they won’t be the ones suffering due to bad economic decisions)

  • Correction, in my last post instead of saying ‘high speed one’ I just meant ‘high speed rail’.

  • What I don’t understand is why people would unequivocally support high speed rail without providing a reason why it would be cost effective or truly a good use of public finances.

    I can only ascribe these beleifs to a misguided and unskeptical futurism. A silly religion centred around an inadequate understanding of technology.

  • Presumably the same ones as were advanced when the first railways were built 180 years ago.

    Those railways were built by private investment. Why can’t this one be?

    And if the answer is that no private investors think that it is a good investment, that rather tends to suggest that it is a bad investment.

  • As a ‘railwayman’ of 40 years, I feel able to comment here.
    With great respect (and no ones fault at all) some of you are possibly assuming, rather than finding out for yourselves why HS2 is badly needed. All of the very detailed documents about the HS2 project can be down-loaded from The Department of Transport web-site. A great number of documents and plans to read through though.
    Our railways are becoming full as more people than ever before, switch and want to use rail for their travel.
    HS2’s ‘main’ role is extra rail capacity which the new line will create/increase for existing routes like The West Coast Main Line, which is our most used railway route in the uk. This increasingly very busy and important mainline route will be full to capacity by 2020. Rail use in the uk has doubled since 1980 to date and set to double again by 2030.
    Over 1.3 billion rail journeys last year alone and spiralling upwards again this year. 5 million extra trains required on our railways to meet extra passenger demand since 2005.
    HS2 is intended for longer distance ‘city to city’ travel, NOT local use, which is why no local HS2 stations are planned (as the plans stand at present anyway).
    If local people ‘in between’ HS2 city stations, wanting to travel by rail for their journey north south east or west, they will ‘continue’ to use their local railway station and line, for instance in the Bucks area, Chiltern Railways. This line caters for ‘intermediate stations’ rail travel and stops ‘between’ citys and large towns.
    Many thousands each day currently using the WCML (and other mainlines) with much longer city to city journeys north and south of the uk, will switch to HS2 once constructed, which in turn will link to HS1 already built and then on to Europe through the tunnel.

    HS1 is NOT a failed project. HS1 is thriving as thousands more start using the new local domestic high speed services since spring. Extra Eurostar users also increase at a nice steady pace since ‘the ash cloud’ introduced new first timers. German ICE trains start testing through the tunnel in October to further increase destinations to and from Europe.

    Do not believe ‘all’ you read in the papers about HS1. Newspapers want to ‘sell’ a story to you, many pay little creed to facts and in this HS2 related case, more to a small number of HS1 users who will always complain anyway and ‘feed’ them with stories. Everyone seems to enjoy reading about others moaning and newspapers know that, makes them much more money than boring old facts or good news.
    Those persons saying ‘half of HS1 services have been ‘mothballed’ are ‘buying’ too many newspapers. It is pure waffle that some may choose to eat, if hungry enough to satisfy a ‘grumble’.

    HS2 will free up the WCML (and other routes) for much more ‘badly needed’ local stopping semi fast trains and rail freight, which is also growing almost as fast and increasing year on year, but running out of ‘spare’ available rail capacity.
    Other existing rail routes will also benefit with increased capacity and connection to HS2 city stations to possibly ‘continue’ your journey ‘direction’ north or south by high speed rail if you so wish.
    It is NOT possible, in practice, to build HS2 directly along side existing rail routes (or motorways). The construction required would mean shutting down these routes for long periods of time plus huge delays and massive knock-on problems/expense for entire regions. Thousands more peoples lives would be disrupted for a much longer time period. All of which would end up costing far more money and time than building a new rail route in the first place.
    I hope this explains ‘one’ aspect of HS2 that seems to cause so much misunderstanding among people in areas of the proposed HS2 route and up and down the country.
    I do understand and fully respect peoples concerns.

  • Rob:
    I have just noted your recent post regarding a report on HS2 from a certain transport website. I would most strongly recomend you do a little internet searching on your ‘link’ before trusting information contained within it.
    I will say no more.

  • First off, I think you would be very lucky to get it for £25bn – Andrew Adonis always talked of £30bn.

    Second, there is a potential for ungoing subsidy – most long distance trains are subsidised when you take into account direct grants to Network Rail.

    Third, the Eddington Report is well worth reading on this sort of thing – a BCR of 2 is pretty low for a transport project.

    Fourth, Roger Kemp at Lancaster has done very good work on the (non-)environmental benefits of high speed trains – in essence high speed trains are surprisingly carbon intensive, esp. as off peak ones are typically quite empty (1 in 8 seat occupency north of Preston on WCML, over the day)

    Fifth, if we get HST2, the existing WCML will have big falls in passengers, which means more subsidies to keep those trains running, or far fewer trains.

    Sixth, fewer trains on the classic network is very bad news for cities such as Stoke and Coventry, which would become backwaters. Both of these two places have very good services at the moment, but those are economic only because of people travelling from Man and Birm respectively.

    Seven, it doesn’t save against current baselines, however, since Andrew Adonis did not persaude HMT to release the money. In reality this is the reason it won’t get built any time soon.

    Anyone interested in my views on this in more detail can read my chapter in “Paradoxes of Modernisation” available in all good bookshops…

  • Dual Citizen 24th Sep '10 - 6:38am

    Tory supporter (and semi-regular commenter on ConHome) here.

    To the original poster,
    Construction of HS2 isn’t scheduled to start until 2015 at the earliest. So the overwhelming majority of the 25,000,000,000 won’t start to be spent until then, which is after the Government is projected to have eliminated the deficit. So, scrapping HS2 would have virtually no impact on reducing the deficit.

    I’ve read Tony Lodge’s report on HS2 in full. The existing (Labour) proposal for the route is slammed. Particularly the city center to city center nature, the route across the Chilterns, and that it didn’t even connect to HS1. His proposed route encompasses key out-of-city parkway stations that are easily accessed from the west of London (Heathrow), east of London (Ebbsfleet), Birmingham and Manchester airports. That way, someone in say Reading could drive 25 miles to Heathrow HS2 and then take the train to Manchester, Leeds, Paris, etc without facing a 2 hour/3 change drag to Euston or St. Pancras before even starting the high speed bit.

    Btw, I am an engineer 🙂

  • 20,000 People a day fly from London to Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh and 20,000 fly back. With up to 20,000 journies into central London too.

    That is not sustainable.

    I don’t get the early point about the London – Birmingham leg being unsustainable. No-one is proposing to stop it there, and a High Speed link only makes sense if it covers long distances that would otherwise be taken by train.

    I think we should also not confuse a £25Bn one-off cost with a £25Bn annual cost. We need to divide the cost by the expected life of the line – say 30 years for the equipment and forever for the land.

    Finally, there is a lot of Nimbyism going on here, Most obejctors don’t want it because they think it will affect their hosue price. I think we need to take a stances against these ‘poujadists’ who are ruining this country.

  • Governments are there to invest in national infrastructure. I’d like to know if anyone site there and does a cost benefit analysis before building a new motor way or expanding an existing one. We spend billions of pounds on the roads each year I see no reason why spending on the railways should not be viewed in the same way. Our railway infrastructure has been massively under invested in for years while much of the rest of Europe has overtaken us in this regard (all at state cost as far as I am aware)

    I agree that we should not subsidise the cost and privatise the benefits but there is a simple solution to that, nationalise the railways (as someone has already pointed out BR was cheaper than subsidising the privatised railways)

  • Kyn Aizlewood 24th Sep '10 - 2:35pm

    Almost spot on! As the Independent’s cartoonist pointed out: “This may be a White Elephant, but its a FAST white elephant!”

    One thing though, you say “if” HS2 makes a loss…despite massively inflating the estimate of future demand, HS2 Ltd set a business case that has revenues of only £13Billion and “wider benefits” [mostly to London] of £4 Billion, which therefore PROPOSES a LOSS of £8 BILLION! Check it out yourself. And if that’s the best case, this promises to be the big daddy of all White Elephants!

  • Many of the reasons posted here, for not building HS2, are simple misconceptions or refusing to accept the fact our railways are booming and set to continue this increasing trend for some years yet.
    As any ‘Dragon in the Den’ will tell you….. Golden Rule One, ‘make sure you have a market for your HS2 business case first, otherwise you have no business’…… Answer, 1.3 billion rail journeys last year alone. Rail use doubled since 1980 to 2010. A further increase of 60% between 2010 and 2030 now expected based on yearly increasing trends for past 15 years. Mainlines running out of capacity by 2020. Other rail routes passenger use, rising around 8% per year.
    Dragons Den answer, ‘I’m in’…… ‘Me too’…..

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3)
    Sarah is only the third MP for this constituency. The first (1974 -1992) was Ian Gilmour, the archetypal 'wet' Tory who opposed many illiberal aspects of Toryis...
  • Bernard Gibbins
    @Alex Macfie 16th May '21 - 3:51pm You said: "Talk of pacts between Labour and Lib Dems is really rather pointless because it isn’t going to happen, and it ...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Geoff Reid, "Brexit stands for more than a referendum and more than leaving the EU." Like what? The EU is hardly a bastion of democracy. The ...
  • Alex B
    Well done Nick Tyrone. You have won this year's Michael Fish award....
  • Roger Billins
    Well done Sarah and the election team-a great boost to the Party when we needed it. May I suggest that the Party sets up a team at HQ dedicated to holding by el...