Why High Speed Rail2 will turn toxic for Labour

8:45 am - April 25th 2012

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contribution by Deanne DuKhan

Looking for a symbol of just how out of touch the Tories are with the reality of daily life for most in Britain? How about a proposal to splash a minimum of £40 billion on an ultra luxury bullet train?

Imagine it, the privileged few sitting comfortably and gliding past the creaking classic trains that millions suffer on every day. And who foots the bill for this luxurious mode of travel? The very same commuters with their limbs squashed against perfect strangers.

Except that Labour is all for it. What on earth is going on?

Welcome to the inevitable transport strategy of a Tory-led government – first, privatisation, now, two-tier railways.

Philip Hammond unwittingly confirmed that ticket prices will be astronomical, by sneeringly telling the Transport Select Committee, “well, of course a factory worker from Manchester won’t take HS2.”

Why didn’t Maria Eagle take the hint? The rest of us thought, Mate, factory workers will be paying to build HS2, wouldn’t be so quick to laugh at them. Yet Labour carried on promoting the Rich Man’s Toy.

Then came news that the business interests driving the scheme were, first and foremost, airports. Whatever green credentials might have spurred an ulterior motive for legitimate support were annihilated.

Chief Execs were drooling over the long haul flights they could now imagine coming to their regional facilities. The irony was immediately clear – HS2, the project once touted as the replacement for the third runway and short haul flights, was actually designed to increase the southeast’s long haul capacity. Carbon 1, reduction, 0.

It gets worse. HS2 carries a massive opportunity cost, and one that will be felt, again, in all the wrong places. Around the world, HSR lines have hoovered up every last bit of transport funding, meaning that critical commuter and regional upgrades become a pipe dream from the moment construction starts.

So everyday commuters will pay for HS2, won’t use it, and will be condemned to further deteriorations in their services because of it.

Next up is the Phase 2 impact of the Y route, which will see hundreds of communities bulldozed through, not in Tory shires, but in mining areas and underprivileged estates. Cities in the Midlands and the North not having a station bestowed upon them will learn that they will struggle to attract business, as companies will opt to set up or even relocate to be nearer the line.

The campaign against HS2 has been warning that it will be a disaster for Britain. Labour must figure out, and soon, that it will be disastrous for the party. Otherwise, come the Y route announcement, and the exposure the issue will have on a national stage, it will have alot of explaining to do.

And don’t even ask what would happen to Liverpool.

Deanne DuKhan is director of Better Than HS2

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Reader comments

Well there we are. If the author had a coherent argument against it would be here. And it isn’t, Just a lot of nimby ranting.

We need to join the rest of Britain to the Europe wide high speed rail network. I know there are people who can’t imagine that anyone from outside London will ever need to travel, but the north, the midlands, Wales and Scotland, need to be linked to Paris, Frankfurt, Milan and all the wealth generating centres of Europe. High speed rail beats flying in every conceivable way. It’s ridiculous that we didn’t do this years ago.

And we do need to join Schengen to make it worthwhile.

@1 Quite so.

What will happen to Liverpool?

There are many parts of Britain that don’t have a reliable mobile phone connection.
Many that don’t have a reliable Internet connection and many more for whom Broadband speeds above 3 Mbs are a dream.
Try running a small business where it might take 40 minutes to upload a document to a client.

So the taxpayer has to stump up to fund HS2 on which privatised trains will be run by possibly foreign operators (presumably on the basis of improving business in Britain) but BT tell me improving my internet connection is not financially viable.

What is the point of even debating this, the opposing views are deeply entrenched and the tossers in Westminster need to repay their donors.

5. Alisdair Cameron

@1. That argument doesn’t stack up, given the immutable geography of the UK. We have many large, and large-ish centres of population, distanced not all that far apart. Trains have to stop. It’s simply not possible to get up to “high” speeds between major city stops, so the only way HSR can achieve “high” speeds and thus its purported benefits is by omitting many potential stops. So, the benefits will accrue to one or two cities outside London, with the others excluded. This has the effect of concentrating London-centricity.
Yes, regional cities need and must get connections to European centres, but that’s best achieved by wholesale overhaul and improvement to the network, not a ludicrous status symbol single line that will cost ludicrous sums.

@1 Chris

We already have a high speed network. Not as fast as HS2, but perfectly adequate for a coubntry which, compared with others with HS links is both smaller and with a much more concentrated population. In other countries, HS links reduced journey times by 50% or more. In the UK, the differences will be minimal 10-20% at most.

Wghen you factor in the travel time from the Birmingham terminus in the suburbs to the centre, it is not obviopus that there will be any times saving at all.

Further those not on the HS link will see a worse, slower service—if the purpose is to increase capacity on the heritage lines, speed will have to be reduced to that of the slowest trains on the service: which means the commuter services at each end, with high speed running on those lines confined to the section in the middle, and it is part of the plan that service frequencies be reduced.

With relatively minor upgrades to the existing lines: rebuilding some “pinch poin ts”, adding a few extra carriages to trains, much if not all of the claimed extra capacity needed can be generated on the existing lines, and the claims as to the increased demand made by HS2 are, frankly, incredible. Demand for intra-regional travel has been static over the last 10 years, and actually falling in the last couple of years. Rail travel has been growing not because of increased demand, but because it is capturing an increasing share of the market. This cannot continue for ever. Air travel to Birmingham and manchester is already almost entirely transfer traffic (fly into London, continue on from tehre), traffic was is very unlikely to go to rail. To me, the growth figure projected by HS2 smack of “Dome economics”—working backwards from the needed income tio the required traffic.

Looking northwards from Birmingham, there simply is not a traffic case for the enormous investment rerquired, and, if as I suspect, the London to Bormingham line bombs, there will be no buisiness case either—and no political support either. In any case, given the existing high speed links much of the claimed savings can be made be, again, minimakl improvements to existing services: the fastest London-Edinburgh service is already just under four hours, and HS2+ does not offer a massive improvement on this.

Again, as the OP said HS2 will suck virtually all rail investemt away from the xisting system, for a business case where the cost benefit ratio is dropping with every survey—and which vansihes entirely if you drop the ludicrous element that all business passenger rail travel time is completely wasted.

7. Margin4error

Wow – this reads almost entirely as “can I find a way to make my nimby outlook appealing to lefties? How about trying to make it a class issue and an environmental one and an anti-tory one and a miners issue as well?”

So – overlook the working class jobs and training opportunities that will be generated in building such a large piece of infrastructure – forget about rebalancing the corporate landscape a little to better serve the north – forget about the fact that every numerically literate account demonstrates that a new line is needed be it high speed or not to meet growing capacity needs. Forget about the likely impact on house building for commuting as seen in Ashford. Forget about this country being ranked a pitiful 28th in the world for infrastructure by the World Economic Forum.

And so on.

This post is so incoherent, so short on any factual substance, so devoid of any understanding why there is a need for more capacity – and not just on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) – that it falls far short of even the lame hatchet jobs put out by the so-called Taxpayers Alliance (TPA).

What is driving HS2 is the same thing that drove the first LGV and AVE: capacity. That there will be an interchange near Birmingham Airport is a plus point, not part of the original rationale.

What will happen to Liverpool? Well, with the new development on the city side of the Mersey going ahead, and Wirral Waters possibly following, rather a lot of good things will be happening. And the train service will, with HS2, be faster still, joining the new line east of Crewe.

Of course, we could manage without HS2, but the rail network would have to limit passenger services – or even take some of them off – to accommodate growing (and profitable) freight traffic. Or perhaps the OP would rather this be loaded onto the already creaking motorways?

@6 Mark

“the fastest London-Edinburgh service is already just under four hours”

I still have to see it. I used to work for the East Coast line. I did Edinburgh-London at the weekends and sometimes during the week. All journeys lasted around 4:40 hours… provided there were no delays…

I hear its getting made out of Rearden metal…

11. Robin Levett


Tell us the one about how everybody on Virgin long-distance commuter services can get a seat.

More generally – high-speed services permit commuting from further out from London. The more economically literate might see this as a good thing, spreading the wealth created in Greater London – which still drives the UK economy – around.

Having read the summary of your ” A better railway for Britain”, I note such gems as the claim that the case for HS2 understates the benefits of economically useful time on commuter rail – but your report proposes cutting first class eating, which is the only place where time on commuter trains can be economically useful. It’s difficult to study a confidential report standing in the aisle of a packed Standard class carriage.

12. Planeshift

“high-speed services permit commuting from further out from London”

Might it be the case it simply shifts the locations people commute from if as a result services to and from london from places not served by HS2 suffer as result?.Plus are the centres of birmingham, manchester and leeds likely to be places people commute from – there is already massive commuting into these cities. Also, with broadband and increasing work from home, isn’t it less important now.

Basically the issue for me is opportunity cost – 40 billion available for infrastructure – is this the best use?

Documents obtained from HS2 Ltd under FOI show its actually likely to REDUCE capacity on existing lines, agreeing with the city council that a reduction in services is likely and pointing out that Coventry “has a better service at present than was strictly justified given its population”.

14. Albert Spangler

It’s interesting seeing these arguments develop.

This will be a very useful infrastructure project in economic terms, quite possibly the Govt’s one hope in stimulating economic growth in the face of the continuing economic stagnation and austerity.

We badly need development of our infrastructure as well and if nothing else, this could take the stress off of overburdened rail and road networks.

What I wonder is, if this will be exclusively a rich mans network as suggested in the OP, will it turn out to be more like Concorde, an interesting idea doomed by tedious operating and economic difficulties, costing us more in the long run?

The experience from every other country which has a HSR network dictates otherwise, and all experiences from friends and family who have used HSR in other countries has been very positive. And they certainly aren’t in the ‘wealthy’ bracket of society.

The only argument that really hold any weight with me is that this pulls investment out of other transport networks, since I really couldn’t give a rats arse about NIMBY’s. But aren’t our transport networks privatised anyway? Shouldn’t they be using their own money from heinously expensive tickets and such to invest in their networks?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the profit motive should be largely removed from public transport, but since we are apparently in the age where so called ‘market forces’ “improve efficiency” of our transportation networks, expecting the government to fork out for projects which they should be funding themselves with their much vaunted economically competitive profits seems a bit ‘uncompetitive’ doesn’t it?

15. Chaise Guevara

“And don’t even ask what would happen to Liverpool.”

My last point is so compelling that I’m not going to tell you what it is!


Surelty if first class seating was abolished, Standard Class would be less packed as some from Standard Class would be able to sit in what was first class.

@14 Well yes, it does seem a bit ‘uncompetitive’, but then the actors within markets have little desire for competing, but great desire for making money and obtaining steady profits. The problem is that competition is a poor method for making money and maintaining steady profits when compared to forming a good ole cartel. Which is even more pronounced when you do stupid shit like hand-out/allow regional monopolies.
Course to stop that you need to apply regulations, which are of course interpreted as ‘interfering in the market’, and are thus something which the actors within markets wish to see pruned, for obvious reasons.

High speed rail from Kent to scotland should have been built years ago but the lack of foresight has kept the UK back. If it is a good infrastructure project then let it go ahead. Or maybe they should look at alternative routes like the Great central Railway which has much of the groundings and tunnels/bridges still then since it was decommissioned in the Beeching years.

@1 and @7:

There is nothing nimby-like in this article, other than the rhetorical flourish of ‘bulldozing’ in the 3rd last para. The concerns expressed are largely about the negative economic impacts and opportunity costs.

Have to dash out, and will reply in support of the OP later, but couldn’t let this pass.

It is nonsense to suggest a project is bad because rich people will get more benefit. Rich people will get more benefit from almost every piece of development, at least up-front, because they already have the wealth and information to exploit those developments. Without these developments though we can never achieve the growth that is so vital for the poorer majority. It’s them who suffers most when growth fails because they are already in the most marginal position. The rich survive whatever happens.

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 20

Agreed: commerical airflight used to be the preserve of the rich (jet-setters), and now you can get flights to the Mediterranean for the price of a big night out. HS2 will eventually just become an unsually good part of the general transport network; how quickly probably depends on how much work we put into other train lines in the near future.

The knee jerk reaction to shout “Nimby” should be avoided. The article questions whether the negative aspects of this project have been fully explored or understood by the wider Labour Party. Only Geoffrey Robinson seems to have realised the negative impact that it will have on his constituency – Coventry. Rather than being a boon to local business it will over time act as a magnet to those centres that have stations. The French have experienced exactly this same divergence – it doesn’t create jobs it re-locates them. Nothing will happen for us up here until 2040 and most areas will be disadvantaged – Liverpool airport suffers Liverpool loses its direct services to London forcing us to use the inflated prices of HS2. When the Y route gets announced watch for our areas and MPs suddenly realising the damage that will be done to; our countryside (Nimby!) the families that will need to be relocated as their homes get compulsory purchased and the businesses that re-locate to the new business parks around the stations. The hard pressed manufacturing towns will become even more deserted. A vote winner? – just watch this space.

23. Margin4error


You may have mised the implication in 1 and 7 that this seems a transparent attempt to turn a nimby-focused dislike of a project into a left wing cause to build opposition against it for un-rellated reasons.

24. Robin Levett

@Schmidt #13:

Documents obtained from HS2 Ltd under FOI show its actually likely to REDUCE capacity on existing lines, agreeing with the city council that a reduction in services is likely and pointing out that Coventry “has a better service at present than was strictly justified given its population”.

AIUI, the reduction is for Coventry alone, and this is not generalisable. So Coventry may have a legitimate complaint, dependign on the balance pre-post HS2. It’s fair to point out that if the existing lines are currently being over-used (with maintenance impacts), then moving some of the traffic onto the new lines is a net good.

@Richard #16:


Surelty if first class seating was abolished, Standard Class would be less packed as some from Standard Class would be able to sit in what was first class.

It would be less packed – but on the commuter trains I generally use, if First Class seating were changed to Standard Class, there would still be very many people standing and no privacy.

25. Margin4error


The op–cost issue is well worth exploring

The World Economic Forum rates the UK at 28 in the world for over-all infrastructure. HS2 is part of the country’s response to that terrible state of affairs as we try to make ourselves at competitive on some economic level or another. (note – France, just across the water, is ranked 3)

so what are our options?


Energy infrastructure is largely built by private companies who have little trouble financing it. There are problems with the ludicrously amateurish way this government has dealt with regulation in the sector that has held a lot of projects up or seen them just plain cancelled. But public money isn’t an answer to that.


Government has committed to a lot of road projects already through its NIP and there are no major new network innovations available – suggesting any road construction would be “more of the same”. While there can be economic benefit to more of the same – no one has come up with a coherrent alternative road-based boost to our national infrastructure. So there is no comparison available to consider an op-cost.


Ports are quite cheap to enhance and prove a good boost to a nation’s productive capacity. But Sunderland and the Thames Gateway are demonstrating this quite well already, suggesting that since much of the cost is private-sector driven, there is little op-cost in terms of public money being spent on HS2. We can have HS2 and our ports can continue to strengthen.


No one seems to think central government should pay to build new airport capacity. As such, even taking away the nimby-led opposition to new runways that has seen government basically ban private sector investment in that area, if investment was going to happen it would not be public sector money anyway. So again, no op-cost.


The UK is ranked 3 in the world for the quality and availability of telecommunications infrastructure (in the same study that puts us 28 for over all infrastructure). As such the private sector investment in that field is doing us pretty well, and a significant new spend would make little difference to our competitiveness as the marginal advantage of being better by a bit more is much lower than the marginal advantage of going from a lot worse to almost as good.


We could invest the money in upgrading existing rail networks. But we are actually investing money in that alongside HS2 (raising questions about how much of an “op-cost” we are facing in that regard) and the Transport Select Committee’s study was pretty unambiguous that huge investment in existing capacity would simply not meet our capacity needs beyond 2020 anyway.

so – any other areas of opcost worth considering?

The whole problem with HS2, and this can be traced back as far as the 2006 Eddington report, is that it is a solution looking for a problem. We started off with a position of it being the answer, because the words ‘High Speed Rail’ just sound SO good and as a result all the arguments have been bolted-on afterwards to try and justify it.

As for the OP being an attempt to appeal to the left, it’s not just Geoffrey Robinson who is against this, but also the likes of Frank Dobson (who lobbied for changes with HS1 coming to St Pancreas, but is against HS2 coming to Euston at all), Austin Mitchell and Roger Godsiff who being a Birmingham MP, you’d have though would be for this but is opposed on social justice grounds. Another Birmingham MP, Liam Byrne is meeting the transport secretary today to argue against the HS2 yard being cited in his constituency as alternative plans are for 6500-7000 industrial jobs (HS2 would net 300 cleaning jobs according to his website).

The fact is that there is a need for greater capacity accross the whole railway network and you can deliver more benefits to more people more quickly for less money by investing in what we have, where the greatest number of journeys are local, not inter-city.

Add to that the recent National Audit Office report into HS1 not coming anywhere close to acheiving what was promised, Margaret Hodges comments via her position on the Public Accounts Committee, and the benefit-cost ratio of HS2 having dropped four times already from 2.4 to 1.2 and the whole project is really looking toxic.

@24 Coventry is the 8th largest city in the UK so reducing rail capacity is not a good idea, particularly as a major development is planned around its rail station. If capacity is reduced in that city the knock on effect will be felt on all stations south of it like Rugby and Milton Keynes.

28. margin4error


So do you have an answer to the Select Committee’s conclusion that “investing in what we have” is inadequate to meet demand over the coming decades?

Or are you of the view that a fixed assets can have capacity endlessly increased?

29. margin4error


do you mean 8th largest in England? I know it makes no difference to your point – but I had it pegged at 9th in England so am happy to update my knowledge – but I can’t believe once Cardiff, Edinbourgh and Glasgow are considered it is thus in the top five in England.

I understand that the gauge used in HS2 will be the same as on continental tracks. This change alone is progress, though upgrading existing lines and widening them would really go towards improving our links with major European cities. How far would the £40bn go towards such a change?

31. margin4error

That’s quitea suggestion Cherub

the UK and European guages are not massively different – so there would at least not be too much by way of spend on bridge and tunnel restructuring.

But you are talking about taking up and re-laying the UK’s rail network – either over a long period of time for which we would need to replace existing trains with trains capable of running to two guages – on something of a big-bang – during which we’d effetively have no railways while thousands of temportary workers trained just for that task, ripped up and laid track we would all then rely on to be safe.

You are thus talking hundreds of billions, given the relatively high cost of infrastructure works in the UK compared to elsewhere.

@27 It won’t just be Coventry, that’s the obvious one which gets hit in phase one. When you look at Stage 2, you’ll be looking at cutting London services to the city centre stations in Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Stoke among others.

@28 If you take a straight line projection on passenger numbers you could come to that conclusion, but you have to consider how few people using the rail network HS2 would benefits. It’s easy to pick out things from the Transport Select Committee report to support HS2 arguments. I’ll demonstrate. They concluded;

-The robustness of the economic case assessment is ‘disappointing’.
-Claims of substantial carbon-reduction benefits do not stand up to scrutiny.
-There is no national transport strategy which includes a case for high speed rail.
-At the regional level, the economic benefits are not easily predicted.
-At the local level, the necessary strategies for high speed rail are not in place.

The TSC also said that the idea that 18 trains per hour would be run at those speeds relies on technology not yet invented. SNCF can just about manage 15 TGVs.

Finally, they said that before the deciding whether or not to proceed, the Government should have provided more clarity on;

-The wider policy context (how it fits with an ‘integrated network’,
-The assessment of alternatives,
-The financial and economic case,
-The environmental impacts,
-Connections to Heathrow,
-The justification for the route.

Besides a handily botched together Network Rail report which said the alternatives were more disruptive – which not only ignored the 8 years it will take to move every track and platform at Euston, but also any hint of roadworks as they aren’t railways! – none of that happened.

33. margin4error


I didn’t take a straight line projection of passenger numbers – and nor did the select committee.

Now while you have highlighted a great many things that are imperfect about HS2 – what you’ve not done is make much of a case against a new line being needed to meet our capacity needs.

I for one would love a genuine infrastructure plan that looks at all our infrastructure needs and integrates a programme of works to both meet those needs and maximise the benefit of doing so.

But the lack of one doesn’t mean HS2 shouldn’t be built. The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. And while HS2 is not perfect – it does at least offer a solution to the problem of a lack of transport capacity, and seems to do so in a way that may in the long term rebalance our economy somewhat by making Leeds and Manchester more attractive to companies seeking for cities in which to put their operations.

The question thus remains – what is the alternative? Certainly no one has made even a remotely useful case for just making do with existing track. No one at all. It is basically a lip-service option for the nimby campaign so they don’t have to admit their opinion doesn’t account for capacity.

Seriously – a good report on how existing track could do the job – or some other transport infrastructure than HS2 would be welcome.

@31 M4E

I know it would be a big project, but it could use the existing routes. The first stage would be chosen from major hubs, a bit like HS2. Of course, one consequence would be that continental trains could use our network, introducing real competition…

Margin 4 error
You may wish to read the 51m paper on investing in existing infrastructure delivers greater capacity, more cost effectively and benefits existing rail travellers now rather than some 20-30yrs down the line.
I’m not sure who all these companies are that are waiting in the wings to locate up here – perhaps you could let us know. But one question why should I locate in the Midlands or the North when I can stay in London and travel there in 45mins? Rather than re-balancing the North South divide this is going to entrench the dominance of London even further.

36. Robin Levett

@Schmidt #27:

Coventry is the 8th largest city in the UK

The ONS has it at 18th in England, FWIW.


so reducing rail capacity is not a good idea, particularly as a major development is planned around its rail station. If capacity is reduced in that city the knock on effect will be felt on all stations south of it like Rugby and Milton Keynes.

Let’s be clear – the reduction in service was on existing lines to Coventry’s own station. If the existing lines are overused, why would it not be a good idea to remove some high-speed traffic to HST2? And why would transferring traffic from Coventry rail station to a station nearer Birmingham (which was the complaint) have any knock-on effect on stations south of Coventry?

The Rugby Rail Users Group saw potential advantages to HS2:

Whilst this new line will have no direct effect on Rugby, it is expected to free up capacity on the West Coast Main Line for additional services. RRUG will in due course be campaigning for these additional trains to restore a regular through service between Rugby and the North West, while retaining the existing level of service to both London and Birmingham.


37. margin4error


Not sure that 51m would provide a very impartial analysis. But it doesn’t seem from a cursory look as though they’ve addressed the issue of diminishing returns on existing infrasrtcuture. While improving existing infrastructure can deliver quicker capacity increases relatively cheaply compared to whole new infrastructure build – there is in effect a breaking point at which it no longer does – and only very badly run countries wait until that breaking point is reached to start the 20 year programme of building the neccessary new infrastructure. (sadly we are a badly run country so that’s effectively what we’ve done in a lot of cases).


I’m not saying it wouldn’t have merit – and real competition on our railways, though it would need significant regulatory reform too, would be a marvelous step towards better and less expensive services. But it would be a huge under-taking and I suspect HS2 would barely be a smudge on its invoice.

You talk as if 1) The West Coast isn’t already pushing towards capacity and 2) Making reasonable upgrades to this won’t cost a bundle. Neither are true. The last upgrade (which increased the number of long-distance journeys by 30%) cost £8.6bn.

The cost of upgrading further and the cost of a new ‘normal’ line were explored as alternatives, they weren’t deemed as cost-effective (both in financial and enivronmental terms).

The choice is simple, either you leave the railway to stagnate as numbers increase to breaking point or you upgrade in the best manner possible.

Rail lines have always had a two class system, if that bothers you so much, why not start a campaign against First Class Carriages?

Have you seen Car insurance for a 20 something factory worker in Central Manchester right now? If you think High Speed Rail is out of their price range, wait till you see that, they won’t be driving themselves down the M6 anytime soon.

This is possibly the worst piece of tripe ever published on here, disappointing.

Just to respond to a couple of points here. 1, this post is about the political implications of HS2, and how they will vary for different parties – see the title 2. HS2 has been sold on ever changing rationales and benefits. First it was carbon reduction, then the North South divide, then capacity, and now even the DfT has backed away from capacity and have moved on to regeneration. But for those still stuck on the capacity issue, it simply doesn’t stack up. If capacity were the issue we’d be hearing proposals to augment that of the lines that are most crowded, and the data shows that WCML is not as overloaded as routes served by Southeastern, Southwestern, First Great Western, Greater Anglia and Brighton Mainline.
As for the impact on Liverpool, for anyone interested in the evidence as per HS2Ltd’s technical appendix in its prospectus, see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmtran/1185/1185vw163.htm items 5.1 – 5.3
HS2Ltd propose that the existing London to Liverpool service be withdrawn. The rerouting via B’ham as proposed would lengthen journey times by 1 hour.
Both chair of the committee Louise Elman and Maria Eagle, shadow transport SoS, know about this, and have done nothing, in spite of both being Liverpool MPs. Manchester airport reps also gave evidence to the committee that they would expect to take over domestic flights from JL airport because of HS2, effectively rendering JL redundant.

Spending £40 billion on HS2 is the wrong priority at a time of cuts to essential services. The majority of us will never be able to afford to use it, yet we will all be paying for it. I would rather see improvements to public transport in my local area, not a swanky new railway for rich businessmen.

41. Northern Worker

I read somewhere that transport is an EU competence and a high-speed train network is part of an EU master plan. In other words, our government and the opposition has no say in the matter. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Re European issue, yes, HS2 originated as part of Europe’s TEN-T programme but it’s not statutory by any means. There’s no penalty for the UK if we don’t proceed, but the Europeans see it as in all our interests, not taking into account the different socio-geographic factors of individual member states but applying a blanket approach to all. The Netherlands bought into that idea. Their HSR has just had to be bailed out by the Dutch taxpayers.

I went to the Labour regional conference in the West Midlands in Nov last year. There was a lunch time meeting about HS2. In a room of about 60 people there were three of us who were opposed. Yes, you are right, the main drivers of the project are the airports – in that case it was Birmingham Airport, who said that they wanted to be seen as London’s northern airport. Everyone else seemed to sheepishly accept whatever they were told.

There were a lot of claims thrown around, with no evidence to support them. For example, it was claimed that HS2 would created 50,000 jobs in Birmingham. How? Will cutting half an hour off the train journey between London and Brum really create 50k jobs? My suggestion that perhaps investing a billion or two into Birmingham’s local public transport would be more effective at creating jobs was dismissed out of hand by people who already had made up their minds. After all, where is there a city the size of Birmingham that does not have an underground or a light rail/tram system?

I pointed out that by the time HS2 is completed we will hopefully have high speed broadband *everywhere* so there will be no need to shift large numbers of people around the country. (HS2 will not carry freight, of course.) And I raised the point that the tickets will not be priced at the same rate as the existing rail services so, as Deanne points out, the service will be simply business class, and like the first class carriages on current trains (the current “business class” on our railways), we will find HS2 will run up and down the country empty.

The logistics are simply wrong. HS2 goes from Euston to Curzon St (effectively next to the existing Moor Street Station). Public transport in Birmingham is dire and Brummies may well spend more time getting to Curson St than they’ll spend travelling to London. The next nearest connurbation, Coventry, will be almost completely excluded: it will be quicker to get the exisitng service from Coventry to Euston than to have to travel from Coventry to Curzon St. Anyone travelling to Birmingham will not want to suffer the poor public transport and so will not want to venture beyond the city centre. This means that the service will be provided only for people working in the city centre: again, it will only be a business train.

The original plan was to cut the time from Birmingham to Euston, and since it takes so much time for a high speed train to accelerate and decelerate there were no other stops in the original plan. But now Birmingham International and Heathrow stops have been added which means that the only truly high speed part of the route will be between the two airports (or more likely, considering the time to accelerate and decelerate, and that high speed can only be on the straight parts of the route, the high speed part will be between Aylesbury and Southam: if you blink, you’ll miss it). Adding the airport stops increases the time and means that the “saving time” is less attractive.

Am I a NIMBY? No. I live about a mile from the route and I welcome the jobs that it will bring, both the construction workers and the injection into the local economy during the construction for the local services they use. (Admittedly, once the construction is over, it will add zero to the local economy, and there is no way that I could use it.) I also welcome the fact that there will be an exclusion zone either side of the track where there will be no agriculture, effectively guaranteeing a nature reserve from London to Birmingham (the majority of agriculture is industrial, so any uncultivated land is welcome). But considering there is “no money left”, why not spend what money we have on something that will be used by far more people? Hence I return to my point above: spend the money on local transport schemes Birmingham (and Coventry) desperately need investment in their transport systems. Such schemes will be up and running far sooner than HS2 and many, many more people will benefit.

Cherub/Margin: the track gauge is the same on HS2 as on the British mainline network and the rest of Europe (except for Ireland, Spain and Russia). The difference is, HS2 has a bigger *loading* gauge – ie you can have bigger boxes without them hitting bridges and tunnels. Expanding other mainlines to a larger loading gauge is a programme that’s already in place, although as you might expect it takes quite a while.

If capacity were the issue we’d be hearing proposals to augment that of the lines that are most crowded, and the data shows that WCML is not as overloaded as routes served by Southeastern, Southwestern, First Great Western, Greater Anglia and Brighton Mainline.

These are already being dealt with by massive infrastructure projects. Southeastern and Brighton: Thameslink. FGW and GA: Crossrail.

Incidentally, to the person upthread who noted that HS2 won’t carry freight – true, but it will free up currently scarce freight paths on the WCML.

45. Robin Levett

@Deanne DuKhan #39:

As for the impact on Liverpool, for anyone interested in the evidence as per HS2Ltd’s technical appendix in its prospectus, see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmtran/1185/1185vw163.htm items 5.1 – 5.3
HS2Ltd propose that the existing London to Liverpool service be withdrawn. The rerouting via B’ham as proposed would lengthen journey times by 1 hour.

That’s not quite what the evidence said. What is said is that HS2 will provide a fast service – much faster than the current Pendolinos – with capacity marginally lower than the current Pendolinos (1100 as opposed to 1178 seats per hour). In addition there will be a semi-fast Pendolino service routed via Birmingham, that will be slower than the existing Pendolino service but provide the same capacity as that service.

46. margin4error

John b

Thanks very much for the explanation about guages. If that means we don’t have to change track but do have to widen bridges or whatever, then I’m pleased to hear it is happening.

Surely most people who are paying a lot of money for a slightly shorter journey will be doing it for work – either commuting or for business meetings – rather than personal use. Factory workers do not normally travel across the country as part of their work, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be using it.

If it is viewed as an infrastructure project for economic benefit of all then the people using it are irrelevant – no different from a canal, container port or freight rail infrastructure.

For starters, get your facts right. HS2 will cost £16bn. The money will be spent at the same rate as for the currnt CrossRail project – meaning there will be no “extra” spending, and no other projects will be affected.

This is a bold attempt at dragging the Uk’s rail network into the 1980s. It seems that many people are still stuck in the 1840s – when the worlds first NIMBY’s complained about the original London-Birmingham line.

As for impact on other projects in funding terms, it’s extraordinary that anyone should imply that there won’t be one. Yes, the gov’t started out with definite rejections of this risk, but they have now backed away from this and currently issue statements such as “we admit this will be a challenge”. Happy to engage in debate but useful if information being used is up to date and based on more than personal feelings or government soundbites.

50. margin4error


seems fair – if you have any comments to my list of infrastructure sectors to Planeshift – let me know.


John posted this and you may not have seen it…

“If capacity were the issue we’d be hearing proposals to augment that of the lines that are most crowded, and the data shows that WCML is not as overloaded as routes served by Southeastern, Southwestern, First Great Western, Greater Anglia and Brighton Mainline.”

These are already being dealt with by massive infrastructure projects. Southeastern and Brighton: Thameslink. FGW and GA: Crossrail.

Opportunity cost is most concerning area. We can’t pretend that we can afford all needed upgrades, if we could, they’d have been committed to by now. Reality is that we face spending choices. So then question becomes, not what bens would HS2 bring, but are they quantifiable to a degree that justifies this spending commitment? Supporters of HS2 say yes, but the DfT itself actually says the benefits are not straightforward to determine.
This is particularly true in the case of capacity increases. We cannot know what capacity will be released without the most important determinant of demand, which is price. HS2Ltd’s analysis assumes no difference for HS2 fares over the classic network, which of course is not quite credible.They have not modelled what happens to demand in different price point scenarios, but clearly if there were to be a significant premium it would mean low or even very low demand. In which case you simply would not see the level of pax transfer needed to release capacity.
Projections for demand are a different animal for HSR than for existing network upgrades. You cannot apply the same assumptions. Which introduces an element of speculation. It’s a helluva long term financial commitment to make for speculative and uncertain benefits. Best approach is to place the project in a reference class, i.e. context of similar cases in other countries. And what you come up with then is consistently poor demand by an average of 54% less than projected. Implications of this simply not explored by HS2Ltd.

52. margin4error


One could of course look at similar projects in this country – like HS1 where services seem to be very profitable and significant track capacity was released on lines into Waterloo.

But perhaps most important — you’ve just made a very strong case for never investing in new capacity at all – be it crossrail or a new port or a railway line. After all – It’s a helluva long term financial commitment to make for speculative and uncertain benefits for any infrastructure.


Heaven forbid. I’m a huge believer in investment for capacity. But we should distinguish between investments backed privately or a mix of private and public spending vs.the risk being entirely borne by the taxpayer, and without much say in the particular spending choice. I think it’s fair to scrutinise a publicly funded project in context of potential alternative solutions to the problem. The DfT has done so only in a perfunctory manner by commissioning the 2 reports, 1 by NR the other by Atkins. The independent one, Atkins, suggested that the 51m optimised alternative would offer a minimum of 3x better value for money.
If the funding were coming from private equity, VfM would be no concern -but from the public purse, and under the current circumstances, I do think it’s fair to call on the government to show that this is justified. At the moment the case just isn’t strong enough. Perhaps it could be made so with (major) changes, but not as currently proposed. And not without the full costing picture.
Too many required components are not included in the quoted figure. The public should not be asked to support any project without being given a full and realistic figure for the expenditure.

54. Just Visiting

No one has mentioned the Channel Tunnel.

That was such a financial failure it lost the shareholders virtually all their share value.

That too was ‘logical’ in ‘joining the UK to mainland European centres’.

If I recall, the shareholders were private not government, so the tax payer wasn’t out of pocket (may be wrong about that).

Let talk details here.
Has anyone got any actual financial figures on HS1.

Lets have some real details – the initial costs and the final costs and the revenue it generates now. Will it ever recover it’s costs?

Without talking numbers in detail – this thread is pretty empty…. (IMHO)

55. margin4error

Just Visiting

Worth noting that the chunnel was of course a tunnelling project – which the infrastructure industry typically jokes as one of two types of projects not to take on. (the other being anything in Russia).

But yes – it was in effect a market based project – though one well backed by government support on both sides of the water.


It is worth noting that financing for HS2 has yet to be dealt with – and it is then we will find out the value in a market sense. Private investment should be expected along the way.

56. Just Visiting


but are tunnel projects the only ones that over run on budget -and end up being unprofitable?

Here’s a better way to boost the UK economy – and what some other countries are doing.

Let the government spend just a few £10Ms on Open Source software – all that £ to go to UK software engineers in the UK, taking existing free open source software and making it work for UK government departments.

That would save the big Microsoft bills which are £100Ms every year for the NHS alone.

The two core components would be a flavour of Linux (maybe Ubuntu) to replace Windows; and LibreOffice to replace Microsoft office. Both are free software already 0 and a little more investment would become better and better.

The Americans might complain that we stop sending > $1B pa to Microsoft!

But they too are embracing open Source – http://www.whitehouse.gov is run on Drupal, the open source content management system. And indeed RedHat, who support a flavour of linux, are a $B company now – the first big open source company .

There are probably 20 open source arenas where spending small amounts would create major benefits, whilst meanwhile providing employment for software guys -an industry that we do want to keep alive.

@42 and @Deanne

As this blog is supposed to focus on the political implications of HS2, particularly for Labour, it might be useful to add a comment about how HS2 fits into the EU-TEN-T (transport) way of thinking. TEN-T have just undertaken a major review of their programme and talk the language of ‘biggest review ever’. Essentially this seems to be a major shift to a more politicised agenda, which we could interpret as a way to free rail investment interests from the ‘tedious’ business of national parliaments and democracy.

The TEN-T maps have always shown the west and east coast lines to Scotland (as well as most of the line to Bristol) as ‘high speed’ in their definition. Suddenly on the latest maps, the east coast route has been shown as a ‘strategic’ high speed route but the west coast line as far as Birmingham has been downgraded. What is going on? Well the EU has classified the development of the European rail network into ‘Core’ and ‘Comprehensive’ projects. The projects that are labelled part of the ‘Comprehensive’ network are the bits that the EU says national governments have decided to develop in order to fill out their networks. By contrast, the developments that the EU is now calling ‘Core’ are what they have decided are necessary to the creation of a ‘strategic’ network across Europe. So far so harmless??

If you read on, the proposal is to leave the operation of the Comprehensive network to national governments and to cross-national partnerships where routes go over national boundaries. However the Core routes will be run under the administration of “Platforms” (no pun intended) which the EU promises will be flexible, ‘non-bureaucratic’ groupings of public and private interests. The downgrading of the existing London to Birmingham west coast route is clearly in order to make space to declare HS2 a Core strategic route when and if it is built.

So where is the problem? Well here are some potential concerns. Firstly, by declaring certain lines ‘strategic’ or Core, the EU gives the national state the legitimacy to ignore the democratic process in deciding whether and where to build a line. The presumption of being a ‘strategic’ route is that the case cannot be made on the national scale in terms of national policies or needs – so national parliaments have no particular legitimacy to make the decision. Secondly, it seems the EU is also proposing to take the contracts for running these strategic lines out of the hands of national governments. The EU is moving towards privatising/leasing the strategic Core routes as single entities under the control of those “Platforms”. That could mean one privatised contract for Birmingham to Budapest or Edinburgh to Istanbul eventually, run by some kind of a Platform representing the interests of train companies – and who else? The EU documents are coy on the issue. Anyway, the leasing/privatisation of Core railways will no longer be a national prerogative; no longer tied to anything as ‘tedious’ as the interests of national citizens or the democratic processes or policies of national governments. Does this seem at all politically toxic to you?

It seems it is this trajectory that is being played out particularly in the Susa Valley but also around HS2. (If anyone wants to know more, I will contribute a blog on Susa). All attempts at rational and independent discussion about demand figures and capacity; about generated jobs; or concern for the impact on CO2 levels are ‘irrelevant’. Once a line is declared ‘strategic’ these arguments are meaningless. They are over-ridden by an EU policy that could be interpreted as doing 3 things freeing rail services from ‘annoying’ democratic controls; securing trade links and political integration right across the emerging EU; supporting transport capital to grow into globally competitive enterprises.

I’m interested to hear your views – particularly if you are connected to the UK trade unions that think HS2 is simply a ‘win-win’ case of delivering more jobs and growth in the UK. Let’s see – that will be driverless trains; ticketless offices; run by ‘Platforms’ with no democratic controls; breaking free of Network Rail; no need to recognise national (or therefore any) unions; and no requirement at all to use UK personnel. Given that we have a choice whether to put £34 billion into transport infrastructure right across the UK, or £34 billion into creating a ‘Core’ route that will subsequently be taken out of UK political control, what do you think ‘left’ Liberals should think?

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    Why High Speed Rail 2 will turn toxic for Labour. http://t.co/KJlBMwam via @libcon #HS2

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  35. VoxOpp

    #HS2 toxic for Labour http://t.co/b8VhitYZ & Tories thinking about killing the luxury dream train project paid by all http://t.co/5ju2NhWA

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  37. Beckster

    Tories fear the 'poison train', So will delay.
    The chances are #HS2 will be left to a new Labour Gov to kill off!

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