I don’t get High Speed 2, or to give it its supposedly sexy acronym, HS2. At a current projected cost of £80b, which is bound to rise significantly if all major projects from the past are to go by, HS2 is meant to produce an economic miracle for the Midlands and the North of England.
Sitting in my car in the car park aka the M25, I have time to try and work out how this economic miracle will come about. OK, I don’t have a master’s degree in transport studies, but I have had a long career in business management in general, and logistics in particular, and so by now should have had enough experience to understand and accept some simple facts to support the need to spend a huge sum of money which in these straitened times is dearly needed elsewhere. The problem is, I haven’t seen any, and neither has this lot – http://stophs2.org/ .
Perhaps someone can put me right if I’m wrong, but as I see it in very simplistic terms, the plan is this. For £80b, or more like £160b when it’s finished, a new railway will be built from London, through to the Midlands by 2026, and then to Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds by 2033. The cost was quoted as £50b in 2011, but I’ll say £80b now, as my guess is as good as anybody’s. Trains will carry passengers only, as freight could not move at the speeds anticipated, and so the economic miracle does not involve the movement of goods, but only people.
So, we have a very limited number of people in this country, when compared to road users, especially those stuck on the M25, or air users, who potentially will be using HS2. This number of ardent rail-users can immediately be reduced by those who are not worried about saving a projected 30 mins from London to Birmingham, or 60 mins from London to Manchester. They may be on holiday, and enjoy looking at the rolling English countryside and herds of daft heifers running away from the trackside. If they are on business, they may be travelling for an extended stay and a few minutes here and there at the beginning and end of this stay is something or nothing. Or of course, there will be those travelling for both business or leisure that simply don’t want to pay the HS2 inflated fares. After removing these two groups who are quite happy to still travel on the Slow and Dirty (S&D), we are left with a small rump of rail users set to create economic miracles when they get up t’North or to Brum (the assumption seems to be that Brummies or Northerners will not create economic miracles in London by nipping down a bit quicker in the other direction). Let’s consider a bit more closely how this will be achieved.
We’ve now got our train-load of business people sitting in the waiting room at Euston or St Pancras or wherever, waiting to be whisked northwards to do their bit to get the dark satanic mills rolling again. What we should do is make a pre and post comparison of their routine, which must include a face-to-face meeting with colleagues or clients in lieu of the normal business communication path, e-mails on t’internet, or conference calls. Clearly, the economic miracle will only come from such meetings. Perhaps it is just to witness ink dry after the signing of contracts?
So, on the S&D they would have left at, say, 0700, worked on the internet all the way on their journey due to the current upgrading of rolling stock to facilitate wi-fi, used their mobile in a Noisy carriage, and arrived at Manchester at 0908 to transact their business. On the HS2 however, they will either arrive an hour earlier, and leave an hour later and enjoy two more hours of face-to-face stuff, if indeed this extra time can be filled. If it can’t, they could be away from home two hours less – whether they use this working on t’internet or sleeping will vary between individuals. I don’t see how any of this is going to produce major swings in business development.
This leaves me with the picture of the chosen few going about their business in the normal way, but it is just that the timetable of where they are when they do what they do will change. But I think the mode of travel is deeply flawed anyway. I regularly travel to the North and Scotland, in my case from Bristol, but I would do the same from London – I use easyJet. Journey times of less than an hour, even to Scotland, cheaper than rail and far more relaxing, it’s a no brainer.
Finally, I simply don’t think this allocation of money shows any fairness. OK, we have this lump of £80b to spend. Leaving aside for the moment health, education etc, and agreeing that it should go to improving transport facilities in the UK, should it really go to the minority of people previously described, using a service already subsidised? How about helping the hundreds of thousands of people stuck daily on our motorway and trunk road network, which hasn’t seen any meaningful investment for 30 years? When will this or future governments realise that using road users as a collective cash cow from which to make a nice annual net profit of around £40b may help the Treasury coffers no end, but in turn is destroying our road network of which we were once so proud. Our highway infrastructure is the veins and arteries of Body Britain, without which nothing will move, and to pour an obscene sum of money into a scheme which will benefit only a very few, with unpublished data on guaranteed returns, is little short of criminal.
Written by Steve Hall