The mainstream media reports about the progress or otherwise of HS2 focus around two main themes – the cost and the route options.
Long Distance – But Far Too Long to Build
On 12th October the UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling confirmed the government’s commitment to HS2, the controversial high-speed rail link to connect London with Birmingham and the north of England. The London to Birmingham section is planned to complete by 2026, with the connections northwards to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.
So, at least 17 years from 2016 – assuming work has already started? By the time we get to 2026 or 2033, the world of work and leisure may well have moved on again, and you have to ask whether taking a train to London from Manchester will be worth it – especially considering the massive investment from China into expanding Manchester Airport.
According to Grayling:
“We need HS2 now more than ever,” Grayling said. “We’re facing a rapidly approaching crunch-point. In the last 20 years alone, the number of people travelling on our railways has more than doubled and our rail network is the most intensively used of any in Europe.”
In addition, he also announced £70m of funding to improve road safety and help local communities along the route. Obviously that is there to mitigate either the problems caused by the construction, or maybe after completion, when hundreds more passengers will be heading for an HS2 station.
Business case – missing logic – exorbitant cost?
There is no logical business case for this high-speed line, intended solely for passengers to connect London and Birmingham, it seems to be based on the notion that people want to arrive in either London or Birmingham 20 minutes earlier. Why?
Travelling between the two cities for a business meeting has already been consigned to the dustbin of history by telecoms developments and a whole range of ICT services, for workgroups to collaborate and share knowledge.
Travelling for leisure between the two cities – why would you want to travel faster if you’re on holiday? Surely that is defeating the object.
If HS2 is being built on the basis of ‘because we can’ – then it is denuding other public services of funding possibilities that would materially improve health and wellbeing in society.
In May 2016, a study concluded that the building cost for HS2 will be 5 times more expensive than any similar line – in particular the French LGV/TGV lines. A really telling comment in this study came from Professor Tony May:
“The team led by Professor Tony May suggested there were much less costly and environmentally damaging ways of boosting capacity on the rail network.”
According to the study from researchers at Leeds University, HS2 construction comes at £105m per km while a TGV line from Tours to Bordeaux, which is currently under construction, only costs £20m per km.
Driverless Cars Threaten HS2?!
The think tank – Taxpayers Alliance has also thrown an intriguing spanner in the works, by suggesting:
“….the high-speed rail link – theoretically connecting London with Birmingham in 23 minutes journey time from 2026 onwards – will be poor value for money.”
It goes even further suggesting it is a vanity project, and that the cost for this new high speed line will be somewhere between £55 billion and £88 billion – vastly more per kilometre than the LGVs in France. At least in China, they’ve adopted ‘Maglev‘ for high speed lines – and its been operational for around 14 years!
I do agree with the Taxpayers Alliance (not often I would though) that there are better and more obvious places for spending such huge amounts of money. Creating a new commuter line into London is not one of them – surely?!
So, we appear to have committed to a high speed rail line at enormous cost, with no really positive comments, and few clearly defined benefits for either the rail industry or the country’s economy.
What a pity we no longer have as extensive a rail engineering and manufacturing industry as we had back in the 1980s even.