Monday, 28 January 2013

High Speed 2

There are plenty of reasons why High Speed 1 made sense: The Channel Tunnel should be linked to London by an equivalent high-speed line if the rail is to compete with City-Paris-Orly air route. I of course remain devastated that the trains from Paris no longer arrive at Waterloo station, which used to be a calculated and wonderful middle-finger to any Frenchman visiting London. However the new St Pancras international station is quite magnificent and streets ahead of le Gare du Nord, and it's an easy change for me, as my London trains get into Kings Cross. This puts Paris closer for me than Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh or even Birmingham. This sounds like an argument for HS2. It isn't

The reason HS2 is going to be given the go-ahead are not the same reasons why it might be a good idea.

HS2 aims to link the North of England with high-speed rail links, putting Birmingham 2 hours, not 3 from London. The argument goes that this will save business time and money, and help the regeneration of Northern shitholes. This is utter bollocks. The evidence from Lyon and Osaka is that provincial cities have the life sucked out of them by fast rail links to the capital, as it reduces the importance of regional offices of national companies. It's easier to do business in Birmingham with a London base. And unfortunately for Birmingham, the greater rewards of London mean that as it's easier to do business in London, at the Margin, jobs and capital will be further sucked from the provinces to the capital as a result of high speed rail.

It will end up moving the commuter belt farther out along the rail corridor, to the detriment of the local job and economy. So HS2 will suck jobs and capital out of Birmingham leaving empty industrial parks and office blocks surrounded by sterile commuter "communities".

HS2 will wreak this devastation at a cost vastly greater than increasing the capacity or extending the regular trains. Of course ministers and mandarins know this. So why is it going ahead?

  1. Mandarins and Ministers are overconfident in their analysis (guesswork) and think they know better than experience of other countries.
  2. Mandarins and Ministers are the kind of people who benefit from a shiny new train to and from London, as are the 'business leaders' who are also said to be in favour. They benefit, the cities don't.
  3. Ministers need to do "something" about the economy and capital spending is seen as something. HS2 is therefore 'something', so it will get done.
  4. High speed rail is shiny and high-tech, and Ministers like to be photgraphed next to shiny modern and expensive bits of engineering.
These are not good reasons to spend billions of taxpayer's money, especially when it makes the poor bits of the country poorer and the rich richer. 



15 comments:

North Briton 45 said...

I think we agree entirely on the matter of HS2. I think it's a terrible idea, an enormous waste of money, a vanity project that will cause immense damage across the English landscape, and pull northern cities into London and attract few businesses in the opposite direction.

At the same time, towns and cities not connected will stagnate further. It would be far better to spend money on things like nationwide superfast broadband; yes such a project would cause disruption but it would have lasting effect for the whole nation.

Jackart said...

Agree broadband would be a good investment. But what about simply improving capacity on existing lines by upgrading signalling and lengthening platforms? Far better (though less glamourous) return on capital employed.

Anonymous said...

What's this, another reason to vote UKIP, surely not!

North Briton 45 said...

Yes capacity on existing lines can be improved immensely - and good trans-Pennine routes would be good too.

Jackart said...

Anon.

Yes. There are several policies in which I think UKIP are right. This is one such. If you think this is enough to make me vote for them you must be sufficiently delusional to, well, vote UKIP.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I think there might be another reason why it will happen - something to do with the EU. Look under "Trans-European Networks (TENs)".

Jackart said...

Ahhh... that explains UKIPs opposition. Normally they're in favour of shiny things. But if the EU is in favour, they're against.

UKIP, even when they're right, they're wrong. What a laughable bunch of wankers.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure name calling will do you wonders in supporting your favoured party, the conservatives.

Some of us vote UKIP for more than just Europe.

Jackart said...

UKIP aren't remotely libertarian, and in fact do enormous disservice to the libertarian, or even classical liberal causes.

UKIP will help the Tories, by being a sink for all the toxic nutters rendering the party unelectable.

You may vote for UKIP for more than Europe, but that doesn't make the party any less risible.

North Briton 45 said...

Oi, Ukippers, behave. I normally only agree with Jackart about twice a year, but this is twice in one column.

Even if UKIP support a sensible policy, they will inevitably do so for the wrong reasons.

Anonymous said...

I'm against HS2 for all the reasons you give but I'm afraid the argument that capacity can be easily or cheaply increased on existing lines is at best optimistic, North Briton says it can be increased "immensely" I'd be interested to hear how. Longer platforms run up against all sorts of infrastructure problems and then you have to build the extra rolling stock. Improving signalling is, I can tell you, I was a signaller until retirement last year, a bloody nightmare. Schemes run late at enormous cost and the change to in cab signalling that is required to increase capacity meaningfully is a long way off. It doesn't work out any cheaper than new build, probably costs more in fact. This is one reason why a completely new line makes operational sense, it can all be done in one go, unfortunately that isn't a good enough reason for HS2. I'm afraid the whole thing is just a huge broken window fantasy, spend a fortune and everyone gets rich. We've been here before on the railways with the 1955 modernisation scheme, which was a massive failure. No doubt In sixty years everyone will be writing hindsight articles wondering how anyone thought it was a good idea.

THORNAVIS.

North Briton 45 said...

Every TOC anticipates growth in WCML; the levels can be debated after the recent franchising farce but the growth is there. Course signalling needs addressing but adaptations can be made. Yes, it won't be cheap, but it would be better spending. Rolling stock issue easily surmountable. In fact all the current logistical problems can be overcome with money - less than HS2 - and decent effort. But....

.... the UK train structure is completely fucked by the Tories' terrible privatisation and Labour's failure to properly reassemble it. The idea of HS2 under the current regime is appalling, but to hope for decent infrastructure improvements of the current network - done quickly and efficiently - is, of course, utterly far fetched.

Anonymous said...

North British

I don't understand your first sentence in the last comment. I was talking about the problems of increasing capacity not projected growth. You say that "adaptations" can be made in signalling, could you explain what you mean ? I take it you have some technical knowledge and are not just hand waving. "Rolling stock issue easily surmountable ", oh yes, how exactly ? Are you aware of the hiatus there has been in rolling stock orders and the problems with funding not to mention the DfT micromanaging and everything, a Labour policy that one. As for your assertion that the whole thing can be easily sorted out for less money, any evidence ? Give us some figures. How would you propose unmaking the present structure of railway operation, I'm sure you must have some concrete ideas. Perhaps you should have passed them on to Richard Brown whose recent review came to the conclusion that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the franchising system, I'm sure you'll be able to give cogent reasons for why he is mistaken.

THORNAVIS.

North Briton 45 said...

Richard Brown was hardly likely to come up with any other result. That's why he was appointed. A cursory knowledge of Yes Minister tells you that. There is no political will to tackle the ridiculous structure of the UK rail system.

I thought I had made it pretty clear I don't blame the rail network problems solely on one government. Labour's decision to get rid of the SRA and to try and control everything from Whitehalll was dim to say the least. Rolling stock issues can be laid at the door of DfT. If there was the will, it is surmountable.

Yes, longer platforms might run up against 'infrastructure problems' but far fewer than faced by HS2. Half of Camden won't need destroying for a start.

Yes capacity needs increasing - though to what extent remains a matter for debate. Many experts think it can be done by other means and not HS2: eg, Christian Wolmar told parliament, 'only two thirds of the Pendolinos will have extra carriages, and they could be extended to 12 carriages rather than 11'.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't necessarily take everything Christian Woolmar says as Gospel, he's not quite the railway guru he likes to imagine and a few extra carriages on a Pendalino won't make much difference. The capacity problem is also one of line occupancy by different types of train, removing the fastest of these helps free up available pathways for others. You've completely missed the point about infrastructure and platform lengthening, even when possible it causes disruption to the rail system, new build generally doesn't. Since you agree that the DfT is the primary cause of so many of the industries problems why do you think they can be easily sorted out through some sort of exercise of the will, this is typical left wing magical thinking, never mind all the practical problems just imagine a new order and all will be well. Politicians and civil servants have been meddling with the railways since the 1923 grouping at least and rarely doing any good, why should it be different next time ? Your dismissal of the Brown report is just silly, you don't like its conclusions so it was all rigged, is this your idea of mature political analysis. It's possible to be both opposed to HS2 and skeptical about the franchise system without indulging in a game of fantasy railways. This is the big problem with railways in Britain, it's a complex and intellectually demanding subject to try and master and yet every ill informed layman and half wit politician thinks they know all about it and how to cure all our transport ills with one master stroke.

THORNAVIS.

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