Opinion: The whole country is talking about HS2, so why aren’t we?

In recent weeks the national media has been full of HS2. A number of prominent politicians have expressed opposition to the scheme, others like George Osborne have rushed to support it, the Institute of Directors members said it should be scrapped, etc etc.

For those of us who have been “in the firing line” of this massive project for over three years already, this national media attention is overdue but very welcome. For far too long, any opposition to HS2 has been brushed off as “nimbyism”, with media images of posh people in grand houses being inconvenienced by a project that would upset their idyllic and privileged existences!

The recent massive increase to the costs of the scheme has clearly provided the catalyst for the national debate to open up finally. The new figure of £42 billion, or over £50 billion including the new rolling stock, is a huge investment in a single project, which should be subject to the most stringent scrutiny.

Yet even these figures understate the true cost of the scheme drastically. HS2 will be subsidised by many thousands of ordinary householders living near the planned route, whose homes have lost tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds in value through no fault of their own, but who will receive little or no compensation due to our archaic property blight laws. These people are not “toffs”, but mostly ordinary people living in ordinary homes, which for them (like most people) represent their major or only assets.

And what about the true costs of the damage and loss to the natural environment, as HS2 ploughs through ancient woodlands and precious tranquil countryside?

If “UK plc” were to work out the real costs of HS2, a figure of £100 billion might be much nearer the mark.

So, if HS2 is going to cost so much, and cause so much grief, it had better be worth it, hadn’t it? Here, the pro-HS2 lobby has had to shift ground continuously over the last three years, as the well-informed opposition groups have demolished one argument after the other. We don’t hear much about it being a “green” project now – because it won’t be – nor the economic case now that they’ve realised that business people can and do actually work on trains!

The north-south divide? There is no evidence that HS2 will do anything to help this, in fact the reverse is more likely – London and the south-east could become yet more dominant.

The need for a step-increase in capacity? Even if you accept fully the demand forecasts behind this argument, which I don’t (and nor does The Economist), why build a new railway line for the fastest speeds in Europe, when we’re a relatively small country?

I don’t expect all Lib Dem members to agree with me, but why aren’t we talking about it at our forthcoming national conference? There’s no mention of HS2 in the conference agenda, nor in the directory of fringe events which arrived recently. The whole country is talking about HS2, so why aren’t we?

* John Whitehouse represents Kenilworth Abbey division on Warwickshire County Council

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  • ^ Good post.

  • Peter Davies 2nd Sep '13 - 2:19pm

    “now that they’ve realised that business people can and do actually work on trains!”
    Only if they can get a seat. Between London and Birmingham, you can’t bank on it.

  • David Evershed 2nd Sep '13 - 3:21pm

    Firstly whilst the next version of ythe HS2 business case will be hit by correcting previous errors about not working on trains, the HS2 team is desparately trying to increase the value attributed to new growth around the northern stations while turning a blind eye to the fact that this will mostly be transfers from where the growth would otherwise have been and a minimal net increase.

    (Note: When its busy on the train, business people use their mobile telephones whilst standing up)

    Secondly, as the environment is now being properly surveyed, there are far more European protected species being found along the route than were realised in the superficial work done when the route was chosen. It is likely that a different route will have less impact on protected species. The current route was chosen to avoid people but protected species made the same choice a long time before.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Sep '13 - 4:23pm

    Is the financial cost relevant?

    If most of the employment opportunities go towards reducing unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, that is a big extra benefit. And if most of the materials are sourced from companies here in the UK, then the financial cost to the country as a whole will effectively be near zero.

    So the project may help resolve a current social crisis at the same time as starting to provide a modern rail system, and the training and skills it helps to develop will be useful and remunerative later too. Surely this is good?

  • Vincent Nolan 2nd Sep '13 - 5:28pm

    John Whitehouse is absolutely right: the LibDems need to reviewing their knee-jerk support for HS2 as being ‘party policy’

    Party policy was to build a high speed rail network funded by road pricing. What has happened to the road pricing? HS2 (which is not a network) if funded by the taxpayer and will continue to be a burden to the taxpayer through the massive operating subsidy it will require when it eventually starts running.

    Alistair Darling explained his change of mind about HS2 by quoting Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind”. Surely the LibDems, home of ‘evidence-based policy-making’ should look at the facts as now known and decide whether their support forHhS2 is still justified

  • M. Wahlberg 2nd Sep '13 - 9:16pm

    As part of this conversation, I’d be interested to hear Lib Dem views on the proposed governance of HS2. HS2 is defined as a ‘Core’ route by the EU. It basically means it is seen as part of a long-distance, trans European key route. The EU policy (signed up to by UK) is that ‘Core’ routes will be taken out of national control and developed and run by what they call enhanced ‘Platform Co-ordinators’ in Brussels. In October in Tallinn the EU Transport committee will progress this policy. What are Lib Dem thoughts about this issue of the governance of HS2? In one interpretation, HS2 will be run by Brussels precisely in order to undermine attempts to maintain pesky national control over the Core EU routes and above all to undermine residual nationalisation of transport across the EU. Will any Lib Dem MEPs be at the Tallinn meeting and what are their thoughts? For clarity, I should add that I am not, never have been, and never will be a member of UKIP!

  • Martin Lowe 2nd Sep '13 - 10:31pm

    John Whitehouse represents Kenilworth Abbey division on Warwickshire County Council

    And the HS2 map shows that the line will be a stone’s throw away.

    Coincidence? I think not.

  • Martin Lowe 2nd Sep '13 - 10:37pm

    Oh, apologies John – I see that you’ve volunteered specific information about your interests in this matter within the comments section (although not the article itself).

  • Richard Dickson 2nd Sep '13 - 10:51pm

    Okay here’s the reality of living with HS2:
    1) When you’re out on local doorsteps in areas affected by HS2, there is just no other issue in which local residents are interested. And yet, the party has absolutely nothing to offer on HS2 (either in terms of changes to the route, amelioration measures or resident compensation) which differentiates us from the Tory party.
    2) As a result, local party membership is falling away and it’s becoming very hard to recruit candidates for local Council elections, let alone having local members and local Councillors wanting to get behind a credible 2015 General Election candidate, assuming that one can be found.

    No one doubts the need to rebalance the economy, in particularly to reduce the London-centric imbalance. However. whether HS2 will achieve this in a more cost-effective way than other regional investment ideas is highly debatable. The Economist, The Spectator and the IoD have all come out expressing major doubts about HS2 and cost estimates continue to soar. The challenge for the Party leadership is to determine a) how we’ll differentiate ourselves in 2015 against the Tories on HS2 and b) under what circumstances the current policy will be reviewed. Just how much do projected costs have to rise? How many more siren voices have to come out against HS2? In the absence of any response to such a challenge, the prospects for 2015 for constituencies along the route look bleak.

  • You don’t bridge the North-South divide by making North-to-London faster (that’s just a commuter boost). You do it by making North-to-mainland possible and bypassing London.

  • I agree with you and oppose HS2 for the reasons highlighted in my letter to George Osbourne reproduced below.

    Dear Chancellor :

    Although I am a member of the Liberal Democrat party (and I hope you will continue reading this submission despite), I am writing to you as a concerned taxpayer and, hopefully, a relatively well-informed citizen (having worked 28 years as an economist in the World Bank) – indeed I have expressed the same concerns within my own party, the leadership of which seems desperate to go hell-for-leather with this massive investment, which I fear will be a gargantuan error.

    My main reasons to oppose it 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

    I realize that the decision on HS2 is a very large one indeed, and that neither of the 2 coalition parties would wish to take a decision that would look like a reversal (or an infamous U-turn!) on what is a flagship investment project, but please I ask that you address these economic, financial, fairness, opportunity cost and environmental issues with the due seriousness they deserve. Any one of these issues would be sufficient to take a negative decision; taken together they indicate that we should not undertake HS2 but rather make wise and much higher return public investments the rest of our rail system, road network, affordable housing, flood protection and the UK coastal footpath.

    With my best personal wishes as you wrestle with this issue,
    John Innes

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Sep '13 - 8:56am

    Unless you think there is no amount of money too big to spend on HS2, it has to be a concern that the costs keep rising. Which is a different argument from Nimbyism.
    But I am puzzled by Gareth’s comment. THis is what the Zero Carbon paper says about Rail, none of which address the cost issue or the disruption issue:

    “6.3.1 Rail has significant potential to reduce overall total emissions from the transport sector.
    Electric trains in particular are faster, cleaner, and have lower running costs than diesel trains.
    6.3.2 Liberal Democrats in Government are overseeing the largest expansion in rail since the
    Victorian era, committing to over £18bn of investment including Crossrail and HS2 by March
    2015. Liberal Democrats support the construction of the HS2 route to the north of England, as the
    additional capacity it will provide on the rail network will attract passengers from the roads and
    air travel, and is a much greener option than expansion of road or airport capacity. For this reason
    we also support re-opening and expanding rail lines and stations wherever there are clear
    economic and environmental benefits, including to attract more passengers and freight off the
    roads and onto rail.
    6.3.3 Liberal Democrats in Government have committed to the electrification of over 800 miles
    of railway (compared to 9 miles under Labour), which once complete will ensure that three
    quarters of all rail journeys in England and Wales will be made on electric trains. We would
    continue to extend electrification of the rail network as far and as fast as possible, particularly on
    high-use lines, wherever there are clear economic and environmental benefits of doing so.”

  • ‘I’d love Tim Oliver to come and advance his arguments to my constituents in Burton Green, the community (outside London) most impacted by Phase 1 of HS2. The line will come straight through the middle of the village, because of the ” we mi…’

    So now at least we know your reasons for opposing HS2 ” nimbysim lol

    It will provide a greener means of travel (as opposed to widening the M1 etc) plus link the north with the south – which we up here in Sheffield/Rotherham will greatly benefit. Most people i have spoken to up here support the project – maybe not in twee 2nd millionaire home owning ‘fake’ villages in Hertfordshire/northamptonshire etc.

  • A complete vanity project. The money – IF we have it – could be spent on 100 or 1000 smaller transport and non-transport schemes that would yield collectively more jobs and more local well-being, more quickly.

    Does anyone seriously imagine that technological change won’t change the ‘need to travel’ irrevocably over the god-knows-how-many years this disruptive white elephant would take to build?

    And I used to work in the rail industry, believe strongly in public transport and live nowhere near the route.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Sep '13 - 10:22am

    @David. “The money could be spent on … smaller … schemes that would yield collectively more jobs and more local well-being, more quickly”.

    Please explain! Why should a large number of small schemes necessarily be better than a small number of large schemes? How would the small schemes yield more jobs and well-being faster than a small number of larger schemes? Would those jobs include the skills training and other benefits of HS2? What about economies of scale?

  • John Heyworth 3rd Sep '13 - 10:25am

    Some Liberal democrats have been engaging in the HS2 debate for quite some time. The following is what Chris Davies MEP wrote in his “Letter from Brussells” back in early July:
    “Oh dear, I’m tempted to rock the boat and cast doubts over Lib Dem policy. I look at the high speed railways in some countries around the world and I am envious. I have publicly supported the building of HS2 to Manchester. But the truth is I have always had doubts about its benefits, its likely operation, its cost and its timescales, and these were strengthened last month when it was revealed that the bill has just increased by no less than £10 billion to £42 billion. So much more could be done to upgrade our existing rail network if that sort of money was made available for the work.
    I’m a railway enthusiast – always have been, always will be. I’m proud to represent the region which in 1830 saw the world’s first REAL railway (as distinct from glorified waggonways) opened between Liverpool and Manchester. I’m impressed by the Shinkansen high speed trains in Japan and the 6,000 miles of high speed track in China. I take TGV and Thalys trains every year, and I know that our 68 miles of high speed line from London to the Channel Tunnel are not much by comparison to the 2,500 mile system in France.

    I also want the North West to have excellent transport links.

    And yet…

    What if we could spend an additional £42 billion on upgrading our existing rail system? We could lengthen trains, improve signalling, build flyovers, eliminate pinch points, upgrade alternative routes for freight and re-open our direct link to the Midlands. The potential exists for significantly increasing capacity.

    The Pendolino tilting trains now running every 20 minutes between Manchester and London can run at 140mph but are restricted to 125mph by the current signalling. I’d prefer jumping on a 140mph train at an existing station, as I do now, than travel at near 200mph but be made to turn up early and wait at the new station, as I suspect will happen. I am unconvinced that the savings in time will justify the huge expenditure involved, for example, in building a tunnel all the way from Manchester Airport to Manchester Piccadilly.

    And although the conventional trains will still be needed to serve intermediate stations I fear that pricing or slower timetabling arrangements will be made to discourage us from using them. After all, no government will want empty high speed trains if €42 billion has been spent building a new line.

    My biggest reservation is what happens to the money if HS2 does not go ahead? The fear is that instead of it being used to pay for the improvements I envisage it would simply not be spent at all, and that would definitely not be what the North West needs.”

  • HS2 is an appalling waste of time and money. The myths that surrpund the perceived need stem only from those with a vested interest in building this monstrosity ie: the DfT, the rail industry and HS2 Ltd.

    The harsh reality against this white elephant is that passenger numbers for long distance rail journeys are falling, there is already spare capcity into London from the North on the Paddington line, HS2 is not green when compared to conventional express trains, high speed rail is being shunned globally as the flaws are being realise, the value for money is completely non-existent and the spurious reasoning from HS2 Ltd constantly changes (and has been for 3 years) in some vain hope thgey’ll make it all fit.

    It really is time to leave HS2 in the sidings and start spending the money on localised infrastructure which would realise benefits to job creation and improved mobility where it really is needed far quicker than this awful vanity train set.

  • Stephen Slater 3rd Sep '13 - 11:21am

    According to HS2 Limited’s own information, the ultra-high speed nature of HS2 is set to make its energy consumption five-times higher than that of current rail. Its high speeds also demand reduced gradients and far greater curve radii, which mean it cannot follow existing routes, which would both save money and reduce the environmental impact.

    It is notable too, that HS2 Ltd has not revealed, even when asked, details of how these large amounts of power are to be fed into the network. In addition to the visual blight of the construction of the line, then the track and overhead wires, can we not expect lines of additional electricity pylons to march across the fields from the nearest national grid access points?

    If HS2 were to be designed to run around 200-240 km/h, with lower energy use than current Main Lines it might just present a sensible solution. Currently all the arguments about timesaving for business travellers are negated anyway by the current choice of stations. Why save 1,5 minutes on the Birmingham-London leg, when you then need to spend over 20 minutes at each end try to get to the majority of city business locations?

    As to the argument of HS2reducing road useage, I just don’t buy it. A return ticket between London and Manchester currently costs around £50-80. An HS2 ticket is more likely to be £120. I can drive the route for around £35 of fuel.
    I already own a car, as over 13 million others do. Where is the incentive to pay a premium to take a train, then take tubes, trams, taxis to get to where I really want to go?

    HS2 is actually a warmed-over Victorian solution to 21st Century problems. If the Lib Dem party wants to succeed in the future, it needs to be truly innovative and ahead of the game, Encouraging our telecoms industry to develop robust, wire-free video conferencing and high-speed internet for all (particularly in the north, plus driving industry to enable more home-working in its administrative sectors would achieve lower transport requirements thereby offsetting the need for this costly, unsustainable, vanity infrastructure.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Sep '13 - 1:06pm

    @Stephen Slater: HS2 will not have premium fares according to this article
    This perhaps surprising as there is a small premium for using HS1 trains. But presumably it means that normal walk-up tickets will be valid on HS2 if appropriate for the journey (with the operator also free to set its own cheaper HS2-only fares).

  • M. Wahlberg 3rd Sep '13 - 1:19pm

    Joe Otten – thanks for your comments. Just to clarify things: I am not ‘getting paranoid’ about EU initiatives [hoped the UKIP remark would establish that ; ) ] but curious that this aspect of HS2 governance seems to be completely off the radar of discussion eg blogs this week have been discussing whether or not HS2 will be expanded from current policy of passengers only, to also take freight. But no one seems to realise that this decision will not be taken at the UK level of governance. As a Core route, this decision about HS2 usage will be taken by ‘Brussels’, in the interest of / following the priorities of the ‘Core’ network right across the EU, not in the interest of/ following the priorities of the UK network. It is another level at which HS2 will not be an integral part of the UK rail network but more of a ‘stand alone’ feature. What do Lib Dems think on this issue?

    Yes, we have EU co-ordination now, with a big push for interoperability – chiefly technical. I’m not raising that as a problematic issue but I am interested in Lib Dem views about a ‘phase 2’ push for interoperability which will be at the level of governance including contracts, policy priorities, timetabling, ticket prices and all of the minutiae of staffing.

    Politically we can note that it is strange that Cameron is pushing for a return of EU powers to the UK but with the largest ever infrastructure project (HS2) he will be handing new powers over to the EU. And if we turn to Labour, we can note that they have a policy to re-nationalise the railways but they support the massive investment in HS2 without registering that current policy will take it out of UK governance. Certainly one political interpretation of this move on the governance of Core routes is in order to undermine the residual forms of nationalisation of rail across all of Europe. Doesn’t this ring any bells for Labour or for the unions? What do LibDems think on this issue?

    Yes, coordination is great – Belfast to Belgrade. But where is the discussion about whether the specific form of governance that is being proposed for these Core routes is one that gets political support in the UK. Will any Lib Dem MEPs be coming to the Tallinn meeting and how will they vote?

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Sep '13 - 1:30pm

    Iain Donaldson:

    “by building [HS2] using European Gauge rails it means that it can travel direct to Madrid, or Paris or Brussels”

    except that the security theatre makes direct passenger trains from HS2 to mainland Europe impractical.

  • David White 3rd Sep '13 - 2:18pm

    The Opinion piece by Cllr Whitehouse is most interesting, as are almost all subsequent comments, both for and against.

    Before returning to Hull, I lived in Hertfordshire, where I was a councillor and a very active member of Planning & Highways Committee. When first I read suggestions of an extra mainline route from London and the south-east to the midlands and the north of England, I assumed that the chosen route would be the former Great Central line, or most of it. Why? Because, overall, it would have been the ideal route.

    For those who may not know, that mainline was eradicated from the timetables following the now notorious Beeching Report. Indeed, I recall that, one Saturday morning, I accompanied a flatmate who had been sent to Woodford Halse by his employers (The Chronicle & Echo) to find and interview some railwaymen about the impending line closure.

    Why Woodford Halse? Well, that village was home to a motive power depot (steam locomotives). A (the?) village pub produced sufficient interviews for the entire feature! Lots of old railwaymen revealed that the Great Central was Britain’s only line which could accommodate trains which had been built for the continental loading gauge. They were wise men because they knew that, in the future, it would be an advantage to the UK were trains, both freight and passenger, of European dimensions to be able to travel in Britain.

    Sadly, a near-sighted government closed our sole potentially international railway.

    But there was and is no need to despair because almost all of the GCR trackbed remains (I think), as do most of the important structures (tunnels, bridges, etc).

    Ergo, I ask why it should be necessary to bulldoze a locally unpopular new railway through the countryside ‘twixt London and the midlands, and at rapidly growing huge expense? There is already widespread agreement that very few people will need to have the facility to shave a few minutes off the a journey from London to Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds. Most Virginal passengers would be delighted if, between them Lord Virgin and Network Rail could arrange for the Pendolinos to arrive at their destinations at the scheduled time!

    I accept that there is great pressure on the future capacities of both the west-coast and the east-coast mainlines; and not even the well-liked Chiltern company will be able to do much about that. Overall, it seems to be true that passenger numbers are increasing and, more important for the environment, we should be urging a great increase in the conveyance of freight by rail.

    Thus, I suggest that we need increased north-south rail capacity, not a great increase in speeds of travel. Thence, I suggest that the relevant civil servants and ministers should examine re-opening the GCR.

    Yes, I know that parts of the route have been built on and that numerous structures have been demolished. However, the reinstatement of a slightly slower but capacious line would be almost infinitely cheaper than HS2 – quicker, easier and relatively hassle-free.

    To conclude, I fail to comprehend why governments insist on choosing the least satisfactory and most unwanted options – for almost everything! Does being appointed to be a minister or a senior civil servant include a compulsory full-frontal lobotomy? – Oh sorry, I mustn’t be too unkind! On second thoughts, why not?

  • Dave G Fawcett 3rd Sep '13 - 2:47pm

    My private ‘bitch is one of semantics. as a Northerner living on Tyneside I really do think that HS2 should not be referred to as ‘a north/south link’. Leeds and Manchester are. for me, two cities at the southern end of ‘The North’. Another 30 miles south and they would be classed as ‘Midlands’cities. The only relevance this debate has to us ‘up North’ is the financial cost that we would have to bear for no obvious benefit.

  • @Joe Otten (2nd Sep ’13 – 10:42pm)

    Your point about the EU and “for trains to be able to run freely … through the Schengen borderless area.” reminds me of just how limited the vision for HS2 is.

    If we really are part of Europe etc. etc. then looking at the map with a London-centric EU perspective shows us that a much better high speed rail route is: HS1, London, Cardiff/Swansea, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Aberdeen. I suspect that the final link Aberdeen – Bergen at circa 350 miles is probably beyond the capabilities of current engineering practises, but not unachievable given an incentive to take up the challenge. The laugh about this is that much of the construction cost would be shared with our EU partners …

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Sep '13 - 3:29pm

    Dave Page:

    “so you couldn’t use a Europe-bound train to get from say Leeds to London”

    And that is exactly the problem, which means that direct passenger trains between the UK provinces and mainland Europe are unlikely to happen. It is doubtful that there is sufficient market on its own for a train service from the North of England to say Paris. And it would be very inefficient to run France-bound trains half-empty between Leeds and London. For such services to be viable, they would have to be able to carry domestic passengers. Ashford has a similar situation; it has a very limited international train service, but if international trains stopping there could carry domestic passengers between Ashford and London, it would be possible to have a much more frequent service there.
    The airport-style check-in for international trains is something of a disincentive to international train travel to/from the UK anyway; it subverts some of the usual advantages of taking the train over flying. Of course, the way to solve the problem would be to do passport-checking on the train while it is in the Tunnel, but the UKBA refuses to do this.
    It would be nice if we passengers could use international trains in the same way as we use domestic trains: that is (mostly) how it works in the rest of Europe. Really the only way you should be able to tell it is an international train is the destination on the departures board.

  • Iain Donaldson

    I must disabuse you of the notion that HS2 will provide better freight links to Europe directly. Although its supporters claim that it will release more capacity on other lines for freight, HS2 itself will be passenger-only.

  • re: Freight

    This “more capacity on other lines for freight” to me illustrates how gullible many supporters of HS2 are, just regurgitating media soundbites. Through the National Rail Freight Strategy and it’s implementation in the form of the Strategic Rail Freight Network significant capacity for freight is already being built outside of the existing passenger network. I’ve yet to see any negative critique of the business case for the SRFN – it possible to build a hard headed pragmatic business and investment case for infrastructure. [Aside: whilst the business case is generally quite good, the rationale behind some of the implementation details, such as the location of rail freight depots is open to debate.]

    Additionally, we should remember that HS2 as planned will reduce and restrict total capacity on the WCML, but HS2 supporters don’t get this…

    So far the only viable proposal for improving direct freight links to Europe has been the Central Railway project (Freight line running from Liverpool docks to Folkstone), which the DoT has repeatedly rejected because the taxpayer might have to underwrite its completion…

  • David White – the GCR was killed by midlands and eastern region BR managers who had pre nationalisation folk memory antipathy to the “newcomer”

  • I would suggest that Heathrow airport be relocated lock, stock and barrel to the far end of the HS2 line. That end should be somewhere remote, under-populated and ideally an unemployment blackspot. That’d ensure good passenger numbers for the HS2, solve the perennial problem of what to do about aircraft noise over London and provide employment for locals at the far end.

  • Peter Chivall 4th Sep '13 - 12:15am

    The problem with HS2 is not that the line is not needed – it will be by 2026 when the 1st stage to Birmingham is built as the line through Milton Keynes etc. will be totally clogged by commuters as the ‘mega-city’ growth of London continues. It is that the original proposals were too inflexible and dazzled by the desire to outpace domestic air services to Manchester – hence the 350kph+ (about 225mph) specification. Hence the inflexibility about routing and the non-stop nature of the line.
    I would make 2 proposals to widen the benefits and lessen the objections. Given that many (most?) of the objecting communities have the M40 roaring nearby, but few of them supported ‘Swampy’ and the the other activists when the M40 was bulldozed through ancient woodland and SSSIs on its way to Brum, what is needed is some benefit such as running high speed commuter trains from places such as Banbury and Aylesbury via HS2 to London. The model is already successfully run in Kent, where the 140mph ‘Javelin’ trains run on ‘Classic’ lines from such as Broadstairs and Folkestone, then link up with HS1 for the quick dash to St. Pancras.
    The 2nd proposal is to start building HS2 from Leeds and Manchester towards Birmingham, but include improved links across the Pennines and include a similar ‘Javelin’-style service to bring in Sheffield, Derby, Stoke, Liverpool etc. into accessing the network. Then wait until London screams to joint the HS2 Club.

  • Steve Coltman 4th Sep '13 - 9:43am

    We debated HS2, and specifically the link to the East Midlands, at our last Region conference. HS2 will only be of limited value to the region, and will probably make our links with London worse in some respects. The existing Midland Main Line (St.Pancras to Sheffield) is due to be electrified (a good thing) but then its economics would be undermined by building a rival line. There would be just one HS2 station in the East Midlands, roughly mid-way between Nottingham & Derby, leaving many with the problem of how to get to the new station in the first place. Even from nearby Loughborough it would add 20-30-mins to the ‘front door-to-St. Pancras’ journey just to get to the new station. Once there, instead of getting to London direct we do a dog-leg via Birmingham. The new line might (just) make sense for anyone living close to the new station, and would take passengers away from the (newly upgraded) Midland Man Line. The effect of this would be reduced services and/or higher prices on the Midland Main Line (the fixed costs of the MML would remain, but paid for by few passengers). Anyone living further south than Loughborough (i.e. in Leicester or Northants) wouldn’t dream of starting a journey south to London with a big trek north. Lincolnshire has the East coast line anyway so the link to the East Midlands will benefit who exactly? (The construction companies who build it will be the main beneficiaries).

  • @Steve Coltman

    I currently live in Leicester. HS2 has no benefits for anyone living here, or indeed Loughborough as you mention (both Leicester and Loughborough previously had a choice of two mainlines to London but now only have one). I’ll be moving back to another part of the East Midlands soon, Derbyshire. Again, HS2 will have no benefit for me as the current local station in Chesterfield is much closer than the stations at the cities (sarcasm) of Toton and Meadowhall. Indeed things may get worse as services may become more infrequent and slower on the existing line. Not that it would make much difference to my life anyway as I only go to central London on average once every three years (when I can’t avoid it). A large percentage of the population of the East Midlands will receive no benefit from a line that is supposed to improve services to the East Midlands.

    There a further downsides to me, as the line will cut across the fields behind my house on a large embankment. I do find it particularly crass and offensive when people who will have the quality of their life impaired by the construction are dismissed as NIMBYs (or whatever acronym)as if our opinion about the destruction of our local environment is invalidated by the fact that we live next to the proposed route. What kind of twisted logic is that? The case for HS2 has to be made on the economic benefits against the economic costs, but also the human benefits and the human costs. I will receive no benefit from HS2, but will have the quality of my life impaired by it and I will have to pay thousands in tax for it. I haven’t been persuaded why such enforced altruism on my part is worth it for something that appears to be a white elephant.

    Talking of white elephants, the history of the GCR London extension is worth noting. It was the last inter-city mainline built in the UK in the 1890s, decades after the established mainline routes were built. It ran from Sheffield through places such as Chesterfield, Loughborough and Leicester and suffered from having stations built further from the city centres as the best sites had gone, poor links to other rail networks and competition with the established routes. It carried four passengers on its first express from Sheffield to Marylebone and was closed in the 1960s, despite the fact that it had been built to the continental loading gauge in anticipation of the construction of a link under the Channel to the continent.

  • Andrew Gibbs 4th Sep '13 - 4:29pm

    Firstly I would like to agree most strongly with John Whitehouse’s comment that the liberal party should be discussing HS2 – if that discussion ends up confirming support at least everyone will know the reasons and be happy that we are not following this blindly. More importantly if that discussion ends up showing that HS2 is a disaster in the making then we can do something about it (fix it or can it)

    I would also like to put my cards on the table and say that I live in the very village of Burton Green mentioned by John, hence those that believe anything anyone says against HS2 is purely a NIMBY response can stop reading now. The reality is however that the reason a lot of ‘anti’ words come from those living near the proposed route (especially in the early days of the project) are because these people have been given a strong reason to look into the details of the proposals and ask the questions. The vast majority of the population (including MP’s) have more immediately important things in their lives and are happy to ‘nod along’ with something that sounds like a reasonable idea.

    And sounding like a good idea seems to be more and more the only thing going for the proposals! When HS2 was first announced there were a number of things it was going to be: an ecological solution to travel, a solution to the north/south divide, a wealth/job generator and general sound investment for the country. The first two of these are quickly disposed of: most journeys will be transfers from existing rail or completely new (neither is ‘green’) and I have more belief in the distinguished academics that consider the benefits will flow mostly South rather than politicians ‘sound-biting’ it North. Neither failure is a deal-breaker though as arguably as long as money is made somewhere it is good for the country, and if that has an environmental cost then maybe it is worth paying.

    Other pseudo reasons have been trotted out which don’t even attempt to have any substance to them but simply the arguments of the playground: “we have not built a new North-South line in 100 years”, “The French/Japanese/whomever have had high-speed rail for decades”, “people opposed the M25/M40/Jubilee line/whatever and look at them now”, etc. None of these have any relevance to whether or not HS2 is a good idea or not however ‘passionate’ George Osborne or Pete Waterman get.

    So realistically we are left with the business case plus the new favourite of the ‘capacity crunch’. HS2 has no business case as a business would understand it – it is fiendishly expensive (whatever 10’s of billions you believe) and operating it will never pay back its construction costs even in 100+ years (it is certainly an engine for growth in the national debt). In fact if other rail projects are anything to go by it may even ending up requiring subsidies on an on-going basis (passenger numbers tend to be over forecast, potential competition and changing markets are ignored, services are promised that never materialise, etc). The benefits are hence predominately intangibles such as business time savings and ‘wider economic impacts’. Unfortunately the very nebulosity of these means it is easy to pluck more or less any number out of the sky secure in the knowledge that 30 years from now that (1) even if anyone tries to evaluate the outcome you can still more or less get any result desired and (2) the decision makers will have retired anyway so no one to blame. The key point with WEIs is to remember that a company building its new headquarters/factory/call centre next to an HS2 station in Birmingham is a company not building it next to a WCML station in another town or city – transport infrastructure moves a lot of things around but it is only genuinely new growth (e.g. foreign inward investment) that really counts. Bad transport harms business and growth it is true, but no-one has even explained why turning one fast link into a faster one will be quite so revolutionary. Thus, although I await the revised business case promised for the autumn I don’t expect anything more coherent or genuinely convincing.

    Capacity now seems to be the main thing relied on to justify the need for HS2, which is a shift from the original reasoning and immediately points to one problem – the current design was driven by the original ‘business case’ and the need for speed, not to generate maximum capacity (including freight) and connectivity. If capacity is the driving force why build the line for 400 kph rather than 300 kph as used on HS1 and the rest of Europe’s trains? Why not have four tracks allowing stopping trains and freight to use HS2 directly? (‘releasing capacity on the WCML’ simply means cancelling existing services to the detriment of all those towns and cities without an HS2 station, and generating little extra capacity for freight) With real capacity the line can connect with Heathrow and Europe (these are implied by proponents but no train paths are available to offer this). Even the ‘Y’ is redundant – the original ‘reverse S’ actually connected the ‘great northern cities’ whereas the ‘Y’ simply connects them to London.

    I’ve rambled on.
    HS2 is a solution looking for problems and failing to find them, and thus being sold mostly on the back of lies (I use the word deliberately). Yes, if HS2 is built it will look lovely, some people will use it and say ‘how did we live without this?’, and those affected by the construction will have stopped moaning by taking their personal losses and moving away or dying. But don’t forget the opportunity cost is tremendous – there are just so many better ways to spend money to achieve the nominal aims than one inflexible railway. Jobs created per pound are woeful. Invest in the north to address the north south divide (e.g. create a transport scheme to connect northern cities with each other rather than just to London, and give them commuter rail and trams to make their labour force able to work locally and efficiently. Better still invest in education and skills!) If capacity is a problem it can be solved with longer trains on existing lines, and if freight is a driving force then reopening closed freight routes makes more sense. Passenger forecasts need to be put in the context of future energy costs, ‘non-travel’ options (whatever happened to Norman Baker’s job to push that?), competition from other lines, and even autonomous vehicles.

    If we really want a high-speed rail network then HS2 as currently proposed is not the way to do it – please talk about this so that we can fix things before it is too late.

  • David White 7th Sep '13 - 3:31pm

    There have been many more interesting comments on HS2 since I added my thoughts.

    First, please let me thank Tabman for pointing out my error when blaming Dr Beeching for the GCR closure. My increasingly fallible memory must have let me down, because the Beeching ‘axe’ was falling, hither and thither, at about the same time as the GCR mainline was killed-off.

    And, of course, Steve is right. The GCR was never a commercial success – though few pre-grouping railway companies made much money, if any. I feel that fact, added to the toll taken on track, rolling stock and motive power by WW2, are reasons why British Railways needed far more investment than governments, both Red and Blue, could/would afford.

    But it seems that nobody has offered any relevant reasons why the former Great Central line would not make a much cheaper and equally acceptable route for a sub-HS line than the HS2 route. With protests from those living near the HS2 route, anticipated costs already beyond CBA affordable and widespread acceptance from commerce and industry that a full-HS line is not required, would it not be sensible to consider a far-cheaper sub-HS route.

    Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the problem with the existing north-south rail routes will not be speed but capacity – for both freight and passengers.

    The west coast and east coast mainlines can carry people speedily enough (when they’re operating to time) and, if updated, the old Midland Railway line would also be fast enough. At present, it is possible to travel from York to Kings Cross in two hours. Isn’t that fast enough? – I’d like to see Lewis Hamilton drive his F1 car from York to central London in less time!

  • @David White
    The decision to build the GCR in the 1890s was a bit silly, but so was the decision to close it down in the 1960s given the infrastructure was in place. I live in Leicester where the line ran overhead through almost all the City. Most of the numerous bridges and brick viaducts have been demolished, some quite recently ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braunstone_Gate_Bridge ). I suspect the same is true in Nottingham, so the costs of putting it back together are probably quite large given the need for compulsory purchase and demolition of structures built on the trackbed and then the re-construction costs. However it may still be cheaper than HS2 if capacity is the real issue.

  • M. Wahlberg 10th Sep '13 - 6:21pm

    Joe Otten – I am sending links to follow up on the EU Core route governance issue, directly to your email address as I can’t post up a bundle of links on this blog. Still trying to track down a LibDem who knows about and has a view on the TEN-T governance proposals ….

  • Why muck about with traditional railway technology, what about Elon Musks idea of a maglift train in a vacuum, uses less energy to propel the train and can achieve far higher speeds, how about London to Birmingham in an hour or less.

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