Opinion: HS2 is NOT Lib Dem policy!

The Lib Dem transport strategy “Building a Fast Track Britain” agreed in 2008 is an excellent document which is well worth re-reading. Lib Dem proponents of HS2 constantly refer back to this strategy when declaring their support for the project.

But High Speed Rail (HSR) does not necessarily mean HS2. On the day that the Public Accounts Committee publishes yet another damning indictment of the project, it’s worth making clear that HS2 is certainly NOT in line with Lib Dem transport strategy:-

  • It will not help to reduce carbon emissions. Its ultra-high speed specification will result in much higher emissions than a conventional railway line – energy requirements increase with the square of speed.
  • It will not divert significant traffic from road and air. Demand forecasts for HS2 are mostly based on switching from conventional rail and ‘new journeys’.
  • It will not be an ‘extensive high speed network’, but a single line (albeit with two northern ‘legs’).
  • It will be funded directly by the taxpayer, rather than the methods set out in the 2008 document for creating a Future Transport Fund (e.g. lorry road user charging, domestic flight surcharges, motorway and trunk road pricing).

We have got ourselves into a situation where the Lib Dems are supporting an uneconomic project which is not compatible with Lib Dem transport strategy, by assuming, without any critical examination, that the HS2 proposal inherited from the previous Labour Government should be continued, just because it had the magic words ‘high speed rail’ on the tin.

In fact, the UK already has extensive high speed rail. The EU definition of HSR (Directive 96/48/EC Appendix 1) includes ‘specially upgraded High Speed lines equipped for speeds of the order of 200 km/h’, i.e. 125 mph. The Virgin Pendolino trains on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) run at up to 125 mph, and could increase to their design maximum of 140 mph if further improvements to the track were made.

Journey times between our regional centres already compare favourably with other European countries. The UK is a relatively small, crowded country – we don’t need ultra-high speed trains which can’t stop at intermediate stations. What we do need is the rest of the inter-city rail network brought up to WCML standards and beyond, through electrification and track and station improvements. We need to optimise the capacity of the WCML through further improvements which have already been identified. If, ultimately, we do end up needing a brand new line to relieve capacity on the WCML, then let it follow existing transport corridors and be routed via Heathrow.

The wording in the 2008 document was sensible and pragmatic: ‘Commit to building a high speed rail network in Britain, with an initial link from St. Pancras to Heathrow. This would be done in stages: building one section, acquiring a revenue stream, then resuming building work’.

It’s time for the Lib Dems to scrap their support for HS2 and go back to the party strategy agreed in 2008.

* John Whitehouse represents Kenilworth Abbey division on Warwickshire County Council

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  • The current UK railway system is now very close to 100% capacity. We need new lines to allow rail to grow (thus moving people off of cars/planes). If we’re building new lines, then high speed ones seem worthwhile, particularly as low-speed lines won’t reduce plane usage.

  • nuclear cockroach 9th Sep '13 - 3:33pm

    Do we really need another HS2 arguthon, barely a week since the author’s last one?

  • nuclear cockroach 9th Sep '13 - 3:34pm

    As for the statement:

    “It will not help to reduce carbon emissions. Its ultra-high speed specification will result in much higher emissions than a conventional railway line – energy requirements increase with the square of speed.”

    That’s fairly rancid. It depends solely on how you generate the electricity for the locomotive power.

  • William Jones 9th Sep '13 - 3:39pm

    HS2 is a cross party supported infrastructure project that is required to open up other parts of England to international business opportunities other than London. Nimbys have managed to orchastrate an effective campaign of doubt over the summer while the government have been on holiday. It’s time their nonsense stopped!

  • James Moore 9th Sep '13 - 3:46pm

    55% of Lib Dem members on here disagree with you. https://www.libdemvoice.org/hs2-lib-dem-members-35666.html

    Your arguments are flimsy. Where are these ‘demand forecasts’? HS2 will not be an extensive high speed network on its own, but you can’t build an entire extensive high speed network all at once, HS2 will form part of a larger network.

  • The real argument for HS2 is on rail capacity, which the article only addresses at the end. His alternative is to improve the West Coast Main Line, and bring other lines up to that standard. The WCML upgrade was costed at 7 years and £2 billion, and came in at 10 years and £9 billion. And it still creaks. And getting a peak seat in or our of London needs sharp elbows and no fear of using them. The idea that upgrading current lines will bring the transformation our railways need is simply fanciful.

    I’m not wedded to every track section of HS2; I’m happy to hear the arguments over different stations / routes. But it seems that much of the opposition is really rooted in NIMBYism – across housing, infrastructure, wind turbines etc. we need to use our principles to win the argument, and not just play the easy opposition card. We would never achieve anything of national importance if we did.

    So by all means come up with a better proposal – but there’s nothing in this article that makes me waver from supporting HS2.

  • Alisdair McGregor 9th Sep '13 - 4:07pm

    I have written a blog post which summarises the technical and capacity reasons why we need HS2.


    In particular, if you don’t increase capacity on the rail network then the capacity limit is going to cause increases in road and air transport usage.

  • Alisdair McGregor 9th Sep '13 - 4:15pm

    @ Cllr. David Becket: You will benefit from the alternative route freeing up capacity on the parallel line through your area.

  • HS2 is government policy. The lib dems are in government. Therefore HS2 is lib dem policy.

    If you didn’t like it, you could have objected to it before collective cabinet responsibility meant you owned it.

  • As an aside, I can’t help thinking that the recent high profile doubts expressed by Alistair Darling and Margaret Hodge may be a quite convenient thing if one were running a Labour strategy to capitalise on HS2 Nimbyism in constituencies along the route. I don’t know the area well, and suspect almost all these are safe Tory seats, with MPs who know what’s good for them, but the emergence of strong independent candidates (along similar lines to Richard Taylor in Wyre forest regarding health) opposed to HS2 – and perhaps helped by non-Tory professionals – may force the Tories to devote additional resources to them.

  • I love the statement that this is not a network, but only one line. Yes, of course. And?

    How do you build a network, other than one line at a time?

    Once we have made some progress with HS2 phases one and two, we can move on to a phase three (an extension to Scotland) and/or an HS3 (going west, either Bristol-Birmingham or Bristol-London). Then you have the beginnings of a real network.

    As I’ve said several times, changing London-Manchester from two hours to one is nice; changing Paris-Manchester from five hours to three (and removing the walk along Phoenix Road) is transformative.

    The biggest weakness of the British transport system is that London is a huge obstacle; a handful of miles of track in North London provide the first effective bypass for London.

  • James Moore – How confident are you that Lib Dem opinion is still pro-HS2? The LDV poll was 4 weeks ago, since when there’s been a succession of bad-news stories about HS2 every week. The latest You Gov poll shows public opinion moving decisively against HS2, with even a majority of Lib Dem supporters now against it. http://yougov.co.uk/news/2013/09/09/majority-now-oppose-hs2/

    As for the demand forecasts, they belong to the DfT and HS2 Ltd!

  • nuclear cockroach 9th Sep '13 - 4:47pm

    @John Whitehouse

    It doesn’t really matter whether it’s popular or not. You do it as a government, as all the alternatives, including doing nothing, are much worse.

  • “The current UK railway system is now very close to 100% capacity.”
    An often repeated mantra by the ill-informed.
    Any one who saw the episode of “The Railway: First Great Western” on Channel 5, concerning Glastonbury will have heard that FGW were able to find space in their timetable for an additional 50 trains – hardly something you would expect if the network was operating at near capacity.

    Likewise if you read the details of the £15Bn investment package into the existing rail infrastructure, you would see how through actually doing the needed maintenance, making a number of sensible stepwise upgrades and adding some new lines we will see a significant increase in capacity and reliability.

    The moving people off cars and planes is a nice to have but is unlikely to happen in the short term. For to move people out of their cars we need to change both the relationship between where people live and work and the mass transit infrastructure and people’s attitudes to mobility.

    John Whitehouse is right, through the steady and politically dull maintenance and upgrade of our existing infrastructure we largely already have an extensive high speed rail network. What he doesn’t mention is that in so doing we the taxpayer won’t have to service the borrowings needed to fund HS2.

  • Peter Davies 9th Sep '13 - 5:03pm

    Lib Dem policy is made by conference. Any similarity to government policy is purely coincidental.

  • Alisdair McGregor 9th Sep '13 - 5:04pm

    @Roland: “An often repeated mantra by the ill-informed.
    Any one who saw the episode of “The Railway: First Great Western” on Channel 5, concerning Glastonbury will have heard that FGW were able to find space in their timetable for an additional 50 trains – hardly something you would expect if the network was operating at near capacity.”

    That was 50 additional Multiple Units, mostly run as paired units where a single unit would normally run (which doesn’t generate additional track blocking) over 4 days.

  • @nuclear cockroach
    “It depends solely on how you generate the electricity for the locomotive power.”
    Given that the plans released todate (and hence the costings!!!) for HS2 don’t include connection to the power grid (nor do they include the building of dedicated power stations) I’m interested to see the official answer to this question :))

  • Alisdair McGregor 9th Sep '13 - 5:28pm

    Why would you build dedicated power stations? The whole point of a distributed power grid is to avoid costly duplicative power infrastructure.

  • jenny barnes 9th Sep '13 - 5:34pm

    @nuclear “….energy requirements increase with the square of speed.”

    That’s fairly rancid. It depends solely on how you generate the electricity for the locomotive power.

    I don’t think how you generate the electricity alters the energy requirement. Anyway – how do you recommend the electricity is generated? Your comments on other threads make it clear you don’t like nuclear or coal/gas – so what sort of energy do you think will supply the need? Wind won’t do it – typically there’s about 1GW of wind supply out of the 40GW demand.
    (Current grid status (GW) 16 coal, 8 nuclear, 12 gas, 2 french interconnector (nuclear, really), 1 wind, 1 pumped storage, )

  • >Why would you build dedicated power stations?
    Because the existing power grid will, due to life expiry and carbon commitments, soon not have sufficient capacity to support our current normal demands let alone pet projects like HS2 and electric cars.

    But given that we are using gas as a fuel, which is easily transportable, it could make sense to use smaller dedicated trackside generators to provide the amounts of power HS2 will demand with minimal generator to user transmission loss – effectively only transmission losses within the HS2 trackbed would be incurred. It would be worth looking at the economic’s of DIY generation tailored specifically to HS2 power draw, given the amounts of power required, but in general it is best to avoid costly duplication – but then given that governments have delayed making the necessary investments in renewing our generating capacity it might be the only way to guarantee trains actually run on HS2 other than to mothball the HST’s being gradually withdrawn from service..

  • nuclear cockroach 9th Sep '13 - 6:03pm

    @jenny barnes

    Where have I commented against nuclear power generation? Reference please, I would be amazed. Sounds like a personal assumption to me.

  • Also, in the absence of any way of recovering the increases (and/or compensating for falls) in land values that additional transport infrastructure creates one apparently unforeseen “unintended consequence” will be to increase housing costs for those not directly taking advantage of doing more business via London.

    Just as in the 80s many people working in London were able to bid up property along the east coast route to the detriment of people in the towns to which the exodus took moneyed (by comparison) London workers.

    The way to “open up the regions” to business opportunities would be to implement LVT first, drawing businesses into low land value and therefore low tax area, rather than taking business away to the south east.

    This party used to understand this. Not any more it seems.

  • David Pollard 9th Sep '13 - 6:25pm

    Following existing transport corridors? That’s the Watford Gap then. What is important as someone has mentioned in passing is that we need an new rail network to continental gauge (that’s bigger rolling stock and higher bridges – not wider track (if 4′ 8.5″ was good enough for the Romans, its good enough for us.))

  • The method of electricity generation has no bearing on the energy use of the trains,which increases with speed. Secondly, if you are going to have something like HS2, then the most efficient method of generation and distribution is to have large power stations and lots of power lines rather than small generators dotted all over the place. That is why we have the national grid rather than lots of little power stations everywhere.

  • nuclear cockroach 9th Sep '13 - 7:16pm


    “The method of electricity generation has no bearing on the energy use of the trains,which increases with speed.”

    It has a profound bearing on the greenhouse emissions, which was the original poster’s spurious argument against HS2.

  • Yorkshire Guidon 9th Sep '13 - 7:32pm

    I’ve done a couple of blogs including some alternative uses of the money as suggested by others:

  • I really despair at this kind of nimbyist sniping. HS2 is an long term national investment project which will add desperately needed capacity (and speed) to the UK’s rail transport backbone. It has to happen. The argument has already been settled, and all we are seeing now is a bunch of political carpetbaggers seeking to gain short term advantage from undermining a project of national importance. It’s time to grow up and plan for the future.

  • Getting back on to the main point John raised, namely LibDem transport strategy as laid out in “Fast Track Britain: Building a Transport System for the 21st Century”
    (http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/PDF/conference/Conference%20archive/A08Fasttrackpaper.pdf )
    and assessing HS2 against it.

    In reading this document it is clear that its authors were probably aware of Labour’s emerging thinking on a London-Birmingham high speed line, but were unaware of their grandiose intentions, but crucially, the document does not define what it means by the term “High Speed Rail”. Hence John is absolutely correct to take his definition from publicly available sources, namely the EU and use this to calibrate a yardstick and hence totally logically conclude that whilst HS2 will be a high speed railway line, it does not satisfy the specified objectives and hence is not a suitable candidate delivery project under this strategy. Yes, Richard Gadsden, has point that you build an extensive high speed network one line at a time, however, there was and is no real strategy to create an extensive network by 2050.

    What is particularly concerning is that back in 2010 the LibDem’s failed to objectively assess what was known about HS2 against “Fast Track Britain” and dismiss it then. It would seem that instead some MP’s in the party have deliberately promoted HS2 on the basis that many people will not read the LibDem strategy and even those who had would only remember the words “high speed rail”.

    Hence regardless of whether you do or don’t support HS2, it doesn’t satisfy the objectives of the LibDem transport strategy. Which brings us on what I believe the second part of the article should of focused on: whether the LibDem transport strategy is dated and hence should be revised and whether these revisions would permit the inclusion of HS2.

  • Elizabeth Williams 9th Sep '13 - 9:21pm

    But it is in the approved transport policy of the party. Until Clegg stops defending it and changes that he is as bad as the other two leaders sucking up to Arup and the Chinese http://www.arup.com/News/2011_04_April/05_Apr_2011_Deputy_PM_Nick_Clegg_visits_Arup_Midlands_Campus/NickClegg.aspx they’re all in it with their mates. http://www.arup.com/News/2011_06_June/28_June_11_Arup_Signs_MoU_with_CREC_to_Pursue_Global_Projects.aspx

  • Paul Thornton 10th Sep '13 - 1:41am

    The difficulty for “Gareth” and “RC” is that those of us directly affected by HS2 have actually read the tedious and detailed papers. Thus informed, we no longer need to argue solely on the basis of the damage it will do to our local communities and countryside. This is no longer just a NIMBY issue.

    “Gareth” perpetuates one of the myths reiterated by Patrick McLoughlin this morning on the Today programme. About £9 billion was spent on the west coast main line and it did improve performance over some sections significantly. But only about £2billion of that sum was spent on new track layouts intended to increase the trains per hour capacity. The rest was spent on directly replacing the old and worn out. Not so much an upgrade, more a refurbishment.

    There is much more detail on solutions that are more cost effective than HS2 available at this link http://www.betterthanhs2.org/

    There has been a substantial increase in the number rail passengers but this corresponds to the introduction of much off-peak ticket pricing. The notion that the trend will continue till it justifies 18 trains an hour in each direction each with 1,100 premium fare seats seats is mythical. If Norman Baker really wishes to argue that point, perhaps he will have the confidence to publish the current train occupancy figures that his department is keeping secret on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality.”

    Finally, if there remains a Liberal of vision and influence with a glimmer of residual hope that this vanity project is a good idea, such a man might like to take one more look at the business case. The Midland Main line via his constituency in Sheffield is to be “upgraded” (see above). This has the potential to make HS2 even less necessary. The connectivity we really need between each of the northern cities could be massively enhanced. But the whole HS2 proposal is founded on being able to remove £7 billion of subsidy from the existing “classic” lines because they will carry fewer trains. The scheme has been uncoupled from reality.

  • Peter Davies 10th Sep '13 - 9:10am

    Could I just point out that the “velocity squared” formula applies to aerodynamic drag which is only part of train energy use. There are also rolling resistance, that energy put into accelerating the train which is not reclaimed during breaking and support systems like air-con and lighting that reduce with journey time.

  • “But it is in the approved transport policy of the party.”
    A concrete example of just how hard the LibDems are willing to not fight for their green reputation …!!!

  • peter tyzack 10th Sep '13 - 11:18am

    perhaps HS2 should be Plymouth to Glasgow, to get away from the ‘London’ focussed argument. We need extra capacity, HS2, 3, 4 should be party policy. Hitachi are building their maintenance depot at Bristol, at the crossroads of the main lines.
    We need courage to go forward, and this isn’t ‘spending’ like you or I do from our pockets, but Govt investment that drives the economy, what it is actually building is not important from that perspective, so lets have something more useful than a nuclear submarine (or two).

  • nuclear cockroach 10th Sep '13 - 11:32am

    Thanks, Gareth. Always useful to have actual evidence at hand.

  • Thanks for this article. We need to stop rushing headlong into this costly white elephant of an investment. There are many ways to de-congest the existing network including converting more first-class carriages to standard, and most importantly, working smarter. Where I live in north Oxfordshire the trains are overflowing for 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the evening … and quite literally run empty for much of the rest of the day.

    My main reasons for opposing HS2 are:

    economic – the case is flimsy at best, most business people work on trains, indeed for many of us it provides a more effective work environment than an office or home (what really helps is universal free WIFI access across the rail network … this also facilitates leisure activities as well);
    financial – already the costs appear to be spiralling out of control – such escalating costs further undermine the economic case, as well exacerbating the fairness and opportunity cost issues highlighted below;
    fairness – why should taxpayers have to fund this massive investment and shoulder all the risks? – if it is such a great project, should not the private sector take it on?;
    opportunity cost – whatever HS2 finally costs, as you know only too clearly, all investments have an opportunity cost – there is a real risk that the very necessary investments in the rest of our rail system, road network, affordable housing, flood protection (which will be increasingly vital with anticipated rising sea levels and heightened occurrence of extreme weather) and dare I add a personal priority, the completion of the UK coastal footpath (whose cost is very low but opens up our glorious countryside for a very healthy pursuit, namely walking, as well as tourism revenues dispersed across the country); and
    environmental – others are better equipped than I am to address these issues, sadly all infrastructure engenders some environmental disruption/destruction, that is why we have to question, prioritize and mitigate so carefully.

  • nuclear cockroach 10th Sep '13 - 11:47am

    @John Innes

    “There are many ways to de-congest the existing network”

    We would all love to hear them. Real ones, which actually remove the WCML congestion. Not ones like “first-class carriages to standard” and “working smarter”. Mind you, they are hardly sillier suggestions that the original article itself. Was that parody?

  • Nicholas Pye-Smith 10th Sep '13 - 11:49am

    John Whitehouse says “energy requirements increase with the square of speed” but to be precise it is the power requirements that increases in that way. Higher speed reduces the journey time and so the increased power is required for a shorter time. The net result is that energy requirements increase in proportion to the speed, not to the square of the speed. In this observation I am ignoring energy lost in braking or in air conditioning and lighting, which I imagine are comparatively trivial.

  • @Gareth

    I think you meant this link: http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/docs/policy/Community/Transport.pdf

    Which is a transport policy briefing dated April 2012. The paper you linked to was the 2008 transport strategy.

  • Nicholas Pye-Smith 10th Sep '13 - 11:57am

    Most people seem to think that the only alternative to HS2 is upgrading existing railways, because no-one remembers that before the 1960s we had about twice the railway route mileage that we have now. Re-opening some of those routes that were surplus to capacity fifty years ago could provide the extra capacity that we need now at much lower cost and environmental damage. In particular I would point out the Great Central route from London Marylebone to Manchester via Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. It was built to the continental loading gauge (in anticipation of the Channel Tunnel) and was designed for high speeds (by 1899 standards) by having no level crossings.

  • “The connectivity we really need between each of the northern cities could be massively enhanced.”

    It already is. There is massive investment going into projects like the Northern Hub which do precisely that, not to mention electrification projects like those between London and Swansea.

    There is no conflict between HS2 and other investment projects, many of which are already set to deliver in the next few years, well before HS2.

    The truth is John Whitehouse and others are simply using fake arguments like this to distract from the fact that their opposition to HS2 is based on nimbyism and not much else.

  • The Grand Central route is no longer available because it has been built on, so that is another non-argument.


  • @Paul Thornton

    Thanks for posting that link. http://www.betterthanhs2.org/

    It shows very well how inadequate the alternatives to HS2 are how little the scheme’s opponents have to offer other than tinkering around the edges of the existing system and suggesting many of the things (regional investment, reducing the costs of operating the network) that are already happening.

  • Vincent Nolan 10th Sep '13 - 12:12pm

    Whenever political people are losing an argument, they are tempted to resort to smear tactics – hence the frequent references to Nimbyism from the pro camp. I say thank God for the (so-called) Nimbies – they are the canaries in the coal mine. Because they are directly affected, they examine the reasons for the proposal closely and draw attention to their deficiencies, a job our MPs should be doing but aren’t. The ‘Nimbies’ views have been vindicated by a wide range of independent bodies, journalists, transport experts etc.
    And they are not Nimbies (Not in MY Backyard) but PLORs – People Living on the Route, saying Not in ANYONE’S Backyard. Look at the evidence and forget the rhetoric and the smears.

  • Nicholas Pye-Smith 10th Sep '13 - 12:13pm

    @RC I don’t know for sure but I would be surprised if more than a tiny fraction of the Great Central route has been built over. It might be possible to by-pass those sections or tunnel under them. Either way it’s hard to believe it could cost anything like as much as a completely new route, with all the damage to ancient woodlands and so on that it would involve. Incidentally I think the proposed HS2 route does re-use a couple of short stretches of the Great Central, one in Buckinghamshire and one in South Yorkshire.

  • @nuclear cockroach
    Re: “There are many ways to de-congest the existing network”

    A reading of the various submissions made by Network Rail will reveal how they propose to upgrade the WCML to satisfy capacity forecasts up to and beyond 2034 – some of which were included in the other £15bn of rail investment announced in the June 2013 spending round.

    No the fundamental problem Network Rail have is between now and 2034 (the real capacity crunch is forecasted to be between 2020 and 2034), is achieving a capacity upgrade without significant disruption to existing services (ie. reducing capacity and hence making the capacity problem worse). HS2 provides a way to achieve a network that will satisfy post 2034 capacity forecasts (but not pre-2034 capacity forecasts) and which government is prepared to throw money at. Obviously the government if it is to fund HS2 will have no interest in upgrading the WCML to satisfy the 2020-2034 capacity forecasts as they will want to use this manufactured overcrowding to stoke demand for HS2 services. So we can expect peak services on the WCML to remain overcrowded until 2034, which in itself will be a driver of behavioural and social change.

  • nuclear cockroach 10th Sep '13 - 12:47pm


    “achieving a capacity upgrade without significant disruption to existing services”

    In reference to WCML can only be written by someone who never switches on the TV News and never uses the WCML.

    “HS2 provides a way to achieve a network that will satisfy post 2034 capacity forecasts”

    Seems important.

    “Obviously the government if it is to fund HS2 will have no interest in upgrading the WCML to satisfy the 2020-2034 capacity forecasts as they will want to use this manufactured overcrowding to stoke demand for HS2 services.”

    Is a conspiracy theory which doesn’t bear serious consideration.

  • Peter Davies 10th Sep '13 - 1:11pm

    @Nicholas Pye-Smith
    No, aerodynamic drag is a force proportional to the square of air-speed (power is proportional to the cube) and work done is the force times the distance travelled.

    Aerodynamic drag is a large proportion of consumption for high speed trains but much less so for slower ones so you can’t say “Its ultra-high speed specification will result in much higher emissions than a conventional railway line – energy requirements increase with the square of speed.” It may well use less fuel per passenger mile than a DMU which has to accelerate and decelerate between stations a kilometre apart.

  • David White 10th Sep '13 - 1:24pm

    Yes, it’s me again; sorry. But I like trains, and have always found the pro and anti attitudes to HS2, through OldCon heartlands, fascinating since the new line was first proposed.

    It’s gratifying to read that David Pollard seems to have noticed my earlier comments about the continental loading gauge. It’s also pleasing to note that Nicholas Pye-Smith has reinforced my comments, on a previous LDV article, that the former GCR route would be far cheaper to purchase and reinstate than the rapidly rising estimates for the proposed HS2 route; I believe that much of the most expensive infrastructure remains intact.

    For those reasons, I assumed that, when HS2 was first propounded, the GCR route would be chosen.

    The continuing growths in passenger numbers on, particularly, the WCML will lead to a need for greater capacity. If all continues to go well in luring freight traffic from road back to rail, there will be huge pressure on the ‘slow lines’ which are shared by commuter trains and freight traffic. With much new-build housing certain in the home counties, there will be even more demand for commuter trains.

    Commenting on an earlier HS2 article, somebody said (I’m sorry that I can’t remember who) that the old GCR route was far short of being a great success – because it didn’t run through enough major population centres. However, that wouldn’t matter too much because it would provide a very valuable north-south (and vice versa) freight route which would take pressure of the existing lines as well as offering an opportunity for fast passenger train services.

    Something else I mused, elsewhere, when supporting a comment from Tyneside (completely ignored by HS2), is whether even faster passenger trains are needed between Lancashire/Yorkshire/Birmingham and London. Refurbishment of the ECML and, in particular, the Midland Mainline is needed – NOW!

    Finally, on a more personally local note, I am almost totally incredulous that the trans-Pennine rail electrification scheme, as proposed, will end at Selby. It would be good were some senior LibDem(s) to ask why the electric trains will not be able to continue to Hull (England’s tenth biggest city, with a socio-economic hinterland of at least another 300,000 people).

  • Alex Macfie 10th Sep '13 - 1:25pm

    “…with 1,100 premium fare seats “

    except that there won’t be premium fares on HS2

  • The former GCR route could become a case study in how not to manage legacy infrastructure assets.
    In it’s entirety it has much potential, however, due to the low value that has been placed on closed lines the trackbed has become fragmented with Chiltern Railways using the Aylesbury – London section, sections in the midlands being used by preservation societies … HS2 Phase 1 will further fragment it by taking over circa 12 miles of trackbed north of Aylesbury, thereby ensuring that the Great Central mainline will never be resurrected, even though doing so makes operational and economic sense.

    One of the challenges is that people think that because the line failed in the distant past, that it will fail again, even though circumstances have massively changed. We only need to look at the London Hydraulic Power Company to see the folly of such thinking: yes it failed but it’s infrastructure was taken up and used to provide modern telecommunications to the City…

    To my mind one of the best proposals for the GCR trackbed has been Central Railway’s £9Bn proposal for a Liverpool – Channel Tunnel freight line, financed from the private sector, but with the government effectively providing a completion guarantee, which seems to be the main stumbling block…

  • @RC “The Grand Central route is no longer available because it has been built on, so that is another non-argument.”

    The proposed HS2 route is no longer available because it has been built on, so that is another non-argument!

  • @Gareth, I was being polite, as there were two documents being referred to: the first the Strategy that John refers to and I commented on (9th Sep ’13 – 8:09pm) and the policy that Elizabeth Williams (9th Sep ’13 – 9:21pm) referred to.

  • Nicholas Pye-Smith 10th Sep '13 - 4:34pm

    @Peter Davies

    Thanks for your correction of my error regarding energy requirements and speed. I will be more careful in future.

  • @nuclear cockroach

    Not sure of your first point, but my “conspiracy theory ” point was more an expression of skeptism based on how we’ve seen government invest in the railways over the decades, plus remember among those “other £15Bm of rail investment” that the government had to think long and hard over are several projects with solid business cases. Hence I can foresee a future government being tardy with further substative funding…

  • Ewen Simpson wrote: “One final point, French & Spanish experience shows clearly that economic benefits flow to the CENTRE not the Regions.”

    Indeed, and for the effect on land values etc to be all but ignored by the party that has long promoted economic sense till recently in land taxes is appalling. Even Paul Channon, when transport minister, wanted to fund Crossrail via a land tax, and so should this be too if it is to go ahead. But my contention is that land tax would itself be a better way of getting growth in the north through lower taxes, than by connecting ever closer to London. More economic activity locally means fewer urgent capacity issues on distance routes as people don’t have to travel out of the frozen wastes to work etc.

    As it is, we’re heaping a very large long term bill onto everyone in the country to pay for house price rises in the connected cities and especially in London. That’s a double whammy for a large proportion of us and and huge individual gain for the winners.

    That’s our idea of good government is it? The land value-scapes created by a proper LVT would then tell much more accurately which communities in which parts of the country might need lots more spending to connect them up.

  • M. Wahlberg 11th Sep '13 - 1:26pm

    In discussing the ‘network’ element of HS2 above, readers might like to note that HS2 has been designated a ‘Core’ route by the EU – part of one of the long distance, trans-European routes. So far so good but this was not just a linguistic exercise as McLoughlin claims (“They can call it what they like, HS2 has nothing to do with the EU”). The current EU policy, which will be taken forward in the next EU transport meeting in Tallinn in October, is to transfer the governance of all ‘Core’ routes to a ‘Platform’ (their term not mine) run from Brussels.

    Of course the UK would be represented as a stakeholder in this ‘Platform’ governance but it is worth understanding that the intended purpose of this ““biggest leap forward in this policy field for many years”. It is summed up by this quote: “Dropping back to individual or national ideas would harm the ‘one-network challenge’ altogether”. So the UK has signed up to a policy that would free HS2 from national politics and regulatory constraints. As one recommendation put it, “there needs to be a binding legal framework and clear managerial structure so that traffic forecasts, investment plans, timelines, capacity planning, alignment, technical and interoperability characteristics, and environmental assessments can be coordinated and jointly agreed.”

    HS2 will be operated on the basis of ‘Core’ priorities for the ‘Dublin to Dubrovnik’ or ‘Belfast to Belgrade’ routes. Contracting, ticket pricing, carriage of light freight etc will be decided in Brussels not London as blogs above suggest. Although physically linking tracks with UK rail services, as far as policy drivers and governance go, HS2 will not be part of the UK network. Do LibDems know about this?

  • nuclear cockroach 11th Sep '13 - 3:03pm

    And know we have the EU conspiracy theorist. Next up: the Illuminati.

  • Not the illumanti, but the rentier class is in charge of all this 🙂

  • David Evershed 11th Sep '13 - 3:22pm

    The Government, Labour and Coalition, keep changing the problem for which HS2 is claimed to be the solution.

    The latest claim is that extra capacity is needed. In which case, 125 mph trains would be more suitable because they could stop at intermediate stations which HS2 is unable to do.

    Whatever problem HS2 is claimed to solve without a decent business case it is just a vanity project for politicians. They seem to feel that they would not be able to get as much spin out of spending the same £50bn on multiple smaller projects with far better business cases.

  • nuclear cockroach 11th Sep '13 - 4:22pm

    @David Evershed

    No. Those travelling from Birmingham into London, or vice versa will choose the HS2, because its fast. This will help those travelling from stations between Birmingham and London, because the existing services will consequently be less crowded.

  • I think that we do need to have a careful look at how our existing road and rail network can cater for the growing travel demand across the UK. The HS2 Scheme was originally advocated by a Group called Greenguage 21, and then taken up by Lord Adonis in the then Labour Government. I think we need a National Transport Plan which sets out more clearly what investment is needed to all forms of transport going forward, of which the proposals for HS2 can be carefully evaluated as part of the process. In the meantime if the Birmingham to London corridor is such a problem, can additional capacity / improvements be introduced on the Chiltern Lines? We could make a massive investment to our local bus services for a fraction of the cost of HS2, and that way everyone will potentially benefit, or even offer a discounted travel scheme for young people. Perhaps it is time for another national debate on transport policy?

  • Alex Macfie 12th Sep '13 - 2:19pm

    @M. Wahlberg: You write of this proposed EU-wide co-ordinated rail network as though it would be a bad thing. But I think it would be a good thing if there were more co-ordination of transnational rail services than there is now. One of the things that probably puts people off travelling between UK and mainland Europe by train instead of flying is the lack of integration of the various passenger train operations (e.g. poor co-ordination of services, and lack of flexible through-ticketing). The odd thing is that it wasn’t always like this: until about 15 years ago you could buy international train tickets (right through to your final destination) at any UK rail station. I would welcome initiatives to co-ordinate and integrate the timetabling and fares of different rail operations in the EU, especially cross-border services (and not just long-distance services either, but local and inter-regional ones as well: one of the regrettable side-effects of introducing high-speed rail services has been the loss or downgrading of the classic train services: for example it is not possible any more to travel direct between Lille or Amsterdam and Brussels on non-high-speed services). And if it takes an EU regulatory authority to ensure this co-ordination, then so be it.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Sep '13 - 2:33pm

    @nuclear cockroach: Fine, but what about people living between two inital termini (London and Brum) but much closer to one of them than the other? For instance, Milton Keynes. As the proposal stands, with no planned intermediate stations between London and Birmingham, the quickest to travel between MK and Birmingham may well be to double-back via London. It would make a lot of sense to have at least one intermediate station so minimise the need for journeys involving double-backing and dogs-legging.

  • Alex Macfie – thanks for your response. Yes we clearly need good coordination of rail travel across the EU and of course we have a lot of co-ordination already, with a focus on technical interoperability. The issue that I’ve raised is about ‘Phase 2’ of interoperability – the governance issue.

    Firstly, I’ve yet to come across a LibDem who even knows about this. I’d like to know what LibDems think about it and whether they are engaging with the details that will be taken forward in Tallinn in October. Anyone???

    Secondly, what is being proposed by the EU is not the only possible model of better coordination at the level of running the trains across the EU. It is a very particular model and I think it has rather serious implications for the extent to which the ‘Core’ routes like HS2 will be integrated into national networks. One of the key problems with HS2 is its ‘stand alone’ character. It is worth noting that the proposal to take the governance of ‘Core’ routes into Brussels looks likely to amplify not moderate this ‘stand alone’ problem. Seems worth LibDems thinking this through and considering whether they should be on the side of another approach to trans EU coordination????

    Thirdly, there is a rather peculiar politics going on. In relation to the Conservatives, Cameron wants to repatriate powers from the EU back to the UK – but the largest ever infrastructure investment (HS2) is going to hand new powers over to the EU. In relation to Labour, they are firmly committed to renationalising the rail network and services – but support HS2 which will be run out of Brussels precisely in order to limit national controls over the Core routes. Certainly the view of some thinkers in Germany and France is that the move to take over control of the Core routes by the EU has a strong political driver as well as just a functionality driver. Their interpretation is that this policy will be used to undermine vestiges of public control of rail right across the EU by taking all the key Core routes out of national control.

    Fourthly, much of the conversation about HS2 eg on carrying light freight, contracting, ticket prices, timetabling, train path numbers etc. seems to assume that this will be a decision for UK national government. It won’t be. The UK will be a stakeholder in the decisions but those decisions will be taken by the EU following the priorities and development plans for the long-distance Core routes. Not the national priorities. Now, whether or not you support this, it would be good to see an awareness of it in discussions relating to HS2. What we see instead is the sort of crass response by Nuclear Cockroach above – any conversation about the EU is dismissed as crude ‘conspiracy’; or by McLoughlin (“HS2 has nothing to do with the EU”). Surely someone in the LibDems can get further than this????

  • M. Wahlberg 13th Sep '13 - 2:24pm

    Nuclear Cockroach – you need to check your facts – look at the proposed railpaths on WCML after HS2 opens and you will see that what HS2Ltd and the Government refer to as the ‘improved’ service on the classic lines means fewer trains; and slower trains stopping at more stops. So it will not necessarily be the case that they will be less full; and they will certainly not be an improvement. Why do you think places like Stoke, Coventry, Wolverhampton etc are so peeved about HS2? LibDems are increasingly understanding the disbenefits from HS2 – the areas that will lose jobs / have a worse train service/ not get infrastructure spending but still have to pay towards the costs of HS2 and the ongoing subsidy. The HS2 business case (their figures not mine) relies on £7billion of cuts from existing rail services.

  • @M. Wahlberg
    You would improve your case concerning EU interest in HS2 if you could provide links to relevant reports.

    Whilst I’m sure the EU would want to have better coordination of trains and services across Europe, I’m uncertain how advanced such thinking is and who are the prime movers – I assume France and Germany, given their historic fights over train approvals and running rights.

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