High Speed 2

What is the point?

The problem is one of capacity on the railways, something that could be most easily solved by longer platforms and longer trains, not speed.

Indeed the evidence suggests that the speed INCREASES the economic dominance of London, and rather than increasing the supply of Jobs in the cities it serves, may see even more of the UK’s economic output originate in London.

The economic benefits of shorter journey times are overstated, mainly because people can work on trains.

If HS1 is anything to go by, most people use the slow line, with only those on expenses using the high speed line. This is the market signalling how much value people put on a short journey time – they’ll take it, but only if they’re not paying for it. I can only add my own feelings on this: what matters is few changes. When you’re on a train, you can relax with a book, or do some work. It doesn’t really matter if the journey is 45 minutes or an hour and a half.

Of course commuters place a much higher value on time than the occasional business or leisure traveller. Which is why High Speed trains drain economic potential out of the regions: people can commute into London from farther away.

The money would be better spent upgrading existing track, rather than on a massive vanity project. But politicians like to cut ribbons on shiny new toys. A longer platform in Stevenage is more use, but less glamorous a photo-op.

10 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    But isn't this one of those projects where the EU has their sticky fingers all over it?

    You hit the nail on the head; the country would see substantially more return from a broader upgrade / improvement agenda.

    So either the Tories are economically illiterate and thick to boot, or the EU are pulling strings again. How much of the £32Bn are they putting up?

  2. TonyF
    TonyF says:

    Too true. After all the small railways were removed by the 'Beeching Axe', all the powers that be seem to want to do is spend money on projects that will only be used by a minority of people. If our local line still existed, it would get plenty of use. There is virtually no public transport here where we really need it.

  3. Mick Anderson
    Mick Anderson says:

    The proposed HS2 will take a mere 20 minutes of the trip from London to Birmingham. They also say that there is no spare capacity on the existing line.

    If they put an extra couple of tracks in alongside the existing lines, perhaps going around larger towns and cities, a standard grade train will do the journey in much the same time – especially if (like HS2) it doesn't stop on the way.

    It would be far cheaper to build, and would use rolling stock that is compatible with existing lines, unlike HS2. There would be very few new environmental issues, except where you chose to bypass the towns.

    HS2 seems to be a combination of political vanity project, keeping up with the neighbours, and using the latest buzz-words. None of these are a reason to spend a load more borrowed money.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    There are limits to how long a train can be. Signalling, junctions and geography all have an effect.

    The length of platforms at, say, Birmingham New Street and Glasgow Queen Street are ultimatly set by the distance to the exit tunnels.

  5. Single acts of tyranny
    Single acts of tyranny says:

    It's all a function of the fact that modern politics is dead. None of the major parties have advanced their thinking much past the late 1970's so they blunder about with top-down solutions and stimulus projects, and they are all pagued by the reality that they are in fact, the problem not the solution. None have any ability much less any desire to shrink the state and we head towards the cliff-edge day by day. Next comes government of national unity (no debate even allowed within the narrow parameters of public life) or EU appointee.

    It's what comes after that, which really interests me.

  6. Thornavis
    Thornavis says:

    Tony F:

    The problem was, at the time of Beeching, that most of the axed lines weren't being used, many of them were badly placed to serve local communities and had been unprofitable for passenger traffic since the rise of the country bus in the twenties. Indeed some had never been profitable and were only of value for the freight traffic they generated, this too started to decline rapidly after WW1. Now with changed patterns of work and leisure many of these lines would be very useful but no one can be blamed for not predicting that in 1962. This is the problem with HS2, not just the astronomical cost or the improbability of it ever getting beyond Birmingham but that it is being built for twenty years hence on the assumptions of 2012, which are probably completely wrong but then that's state planning for you. If you look at the recent history of new build and reopening of railways it's clear that small projects usually exceed expectations and large ones seriously underperform, so you are right that local lines are a better investment.
    Anonymous at 5.30pm is also correct, there are serious restrictions in Britain to increasing rail capacity within present infrastructure limits and it is not necessarily any cheaper, new lines are therefore a good idea but they don't have to be High Speed for one thing the mix of traffic they should be carrying including freight ( which always gets overlooked ) precludes this as capacity is basically limited by the speed of the slowest trains, another reason why HS2 is a bad idea as it excludes most of the available traffic.


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