HS2: Do we need it? – The London Economic

By Oliver Ward

Do we need High Speed Railway 2

The Chinese built their High Speed Rail (HSR) in less than two years. In Britain we have been debating the subject for two years, members of all political parties have been stroking their chins in backrooms and passing memos between themselves but its expected completion date is still speck in the distance at 2026. And that’s providing initial targets are met, which inevitably will be extended while the counties wrestle for their interests to be heard like dogs fighting over the abstract concept of a bone, which may or may not be provided in much later life.

Taking a train between cities in the north of England is no easy task at the moment. I found myself on a train from Leeds to Manchester recently, two bustling cities representing modernity in the North of England. Long gone are the Thatcher days when the bleak British north was a place of coal-blackened faces and chips with gravy, Leeds is now the second largest provider of financial services (behind London of course) and you can even buy a panini at the train station if you can squeeze into a suit and tie. Despite this the train I found myself on was late, a fact that frequent train users simply become accustomed to in these days of High Speed Rail 1. Nor were there any seats for the 50 minute journey, but this too did not hamper my journey as I had come prepared with a large backpack. I simply placed it at my feet, assumed a position which can only be described at halfway between a squat and a perch and decided to wait out the journey- made all the more quicker by the fact I was unable to see out of any windows to assess geographical bearing because my face was around crotch height and to avoid the embarrassment of those around me I kept my gaze transfixed on the floor until the announcement came that we were approaching Manchester.

It seems Britain needs an improvement on the way its population can travel between cities. At £42 billion HS2 however is certainly not the cheapest or simplest option, that is providing the initial budget is met; given the HS1 and Olympic initial budgets it seems unlikely. If the Telegraph is to be trusted the scheme has already cost the taxpayer a whopping £87 million in consultancy fees. The reality is there are cheaper, more straightforward ways of increasing capacity and speed of existing services.

Currently the Labour Party is supporting the construction of HS2 as it argues it will cut journey times and therefore “re-balance the economy away from London”. It is only Ed Balls who questioned the £42 billion price tag. He is right to, there are far cheaper ways of creating a more comfortable rail service, starting with the opening of First Class when economy becomes filled and First Class remains near empty.

Many Conservatives shudder at the idea of travelling across our radiant country shoulder to shoulder with the general population but I feel I have some words of comfort. Firstly using the train is not the cheapest method of travel in this country, and the inflated prices we are forced to pay price out many Oxbridge graduates let alone the rest of the population. Secondly, on the off chance that the Jeremy Kyle show does pay travel expenses for its guests and Sir Nicholas Winterton finds himself face to face with Paul from Birmingham, a man with more children than teeth and an unfaithful wife in urgent need of a lie detector test, at least Cross Country promise all their First Class passengers that their seat will be aligned with a window so he can stare awkwardly out at the rolling English countryside without those infuriating joins to obscure the view.

Other options such as increasing the length of trains on inter city routes also provide a cheaper, viable alternative. The speed of the trains surely has little impact on the national economy. Trains are fitted with WiFi and the professionals I encountered on the train were glued to their screens for the duration of the journey and it would seem they were perfectly capable of working all the way into Manchester. It is these professionals who dominate trains everywhere and who the scheme is intended to benefit the most, but it seems difficult to see why they need the scheme when the technological age has brought the office into the palm of our hands and a fifty minute train journey simply implies a fifty minute portable manifestation of your digitalised office.

Proponents suggest it will boost the economies and jobs in places like Manchester and Leeds. Employment in the north will rise and put an end to the way London inhales jobs from the North of England like an all engulfing black hole. However analysts predict London will actually benefit most from HS2 and in reality the opportunities for employment in the capital will rise accordingly, suggesting there will be no change in the proportionate distribution of employment throughout England.

There are reasons why many of the other European governments have scrapped HS2 plans, the new lines were “underused” and “costly”. And if we have to wait until 2026 until the benefits are reaped who is to say the demand will still exist? By 2026 it is likely that national economies will rely more heavily on faster broadband to work more efficiently rather than faster rail connections yet only one per cent of homes currently have fibre-optic cabling, improvement of this will be a far more pressing concern and would be a far wiser use of £42 billion.

Not even considering the environmental impact and the backlash from residents in Warwickshire and Stafford over the prospective placement of the new tracks, we fundamentally do not need HS2. It will be an outdated solution to a problem which probably won’t be around any more if the cost of rail travel keeps rising.

Gerald Warner in The Scotsman wrote that politicians aren’t remembered for merely upgrading the signalling. He is right, the HS2 is a vanity project for the Conservative Party and the Transport Minister to show they are a modern party. The joke is that by the time HS2 is completed it will no longer be a modern product but a desolate reminder of the Coalition Government and their ostentatious plans, endless paper-pushing and weak opposition. A spokesperson for Ed Balls said “we will take a hard-headed look at both the costs and benefits of the scheme to ensure it is the best way to spend £50 billion”. Which makes you wonder, what have they been doing for the past two years? And where will we be on this cursed, done for project in another two years time.

4 Responses

  1. david fellingham

    Absolutely the best article I have read on this subject.
    No histrionics, no nimbyism just a hard headed look at this doomed to failure project leeching investment away from other infrastructure upgrades we are in dire need of.

  2. Carl-Ake Utterstrom

    Why build that very expansive project HS2 from London to Birmingham and further on to Manchester and Leeds (two separate tracks) for Bln £50 when you can get a more widespred solution with magnetic train for Bln £16.

    A double track from London via Birmingham to Manchester over the Pennines to Leeds, Teeside, Tyneside, Edinburgh to Glasgow for Bkn £16. Length of the track will be 800 kilometre.

    As the magnetic trains guideway is uplifted no extra costs för changing of roads etc.

    The ground demand is just 2.1 square metre pro lengthmetre track.

    The train can manage sharp curves and inclination of ten percent can therefore basically follow existing high ways and pass over acres without impact of the agricultural process.

    The magnetic train can reach about double the average speed as conventional HSR like the HS2-project. Thereby having much higher passenger capacity.

    Most of the problem involved with ordinary trains do not exist re Maglev trains.

    Have no catenary, wheels, rail, sleepers, conventional brakes, shafts and bearings. No cooling problem as hot critical and complexitive systems and components are situated in sub stations along the track.

    As it can be built in shorter time the capital accumulation costs will be quite lower and the repayment by ticket can start earlier.
    The economic risk is quite lower as the system has lower complexity with prefabricated concrete segments lifted in place on in beforehand built pillars every 25 metre.

    A 25 metre section has a weight totally of 165 metric tons while an uplifted HSR do have a weight of 900 metric tons for every 30 metre track. Furthermore the conventional HSR require slabs, sleepers, rail, catenary and external signalling. The driverless Maglev do not need external signalling.

    Maglev will have no impact from flooding etc.

    Higher relayability, availability, lower maintenance-, personal and energy cost than HSR.

    You have still time to alter the HS2-project to a more suistainable solution without carbon-, heavy metal – and brake dust.

  3. Yes we need High Speed Rail, or rather Birmingham does to connect it to both the North and the South.

    The route might change to accommodate local special
    interests, but the country as a whole needs to keep up
    with or ahead of its International competitors.

    All major economies these days have High Speed Rail
    electric projects, why should the UK be left out.

    I recall similar arguments against other infrastructure
    projects in the past like the Motorway network and the
    Channel Tunnel which we couldn’t do without today.

    No HS2 and beyond will be similarly regarded in years
    to come. Its not an option and longer, its essential.

  4. Hari

    “Many Conservatives shudder at the idea of travelling across our radiant country shoulder to shoulder with the general population”

    I had to stop reading after this statement.

    Yes. Because ALL the Labour MPs, not to mention all the Labour businessmen and women are really excited about the regular-class prospect, and never use first class, nor private cars to travel in.

    Really tired of this attitude from those on the Left who then get annoyed when people comment that ALL those who are on benefits are scroungers.

    Quite frankly, keep your own extreme views out of the reporting.

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