HS2 holds great potential, but the government must ensure all our railways are fit for the future


Stephen Joseph is the chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport

We welcome the government’s long term commitment to the railways in the form of HS2. to make the most of that investment, however, we need the whole network to be part of the plan.

High-Speed-Rail-HS2-route-map-London-Birmingham-Manchester-Leeds
In announcing a route for HS2 [see High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Phase Two: The route to Leeds, Manchester and beyond (pdf)], transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin was clear why the government is spending £33 billion on new high speed lines to link London with the Midlands and north of England:

“Rebalancing and rebuilding our economy; and generating the growth and jobs that will allow us to compete and win in the 21st century global marketplace.

That bold vision is some way off – the first HS2 trains aren’t expected to run for 20 years. Our railways face pressing concerns which need to be dealt with now.

By some measures the railways are in good health. Passenger numbers have gone up every year since 1993. Tuesday’s National Passenger Survey (pdf) showed most of those train users are satisfied with the railways. But you don’t have to dig very deep before a different picture begins to emerge.

The survey also showed a third of passengers are unhappy about overcrowding; worse, less half believe they get value for money. These need to be the immediate priorities for the government.

Ticket price increases cause fury every year. We have the highest fares in Europe and they’re rising much faster than incomes. Nearly 4,000 people have already signed our petition with 38 Degrees to get ticket prices down. The government must use the findings of its Fares Review, due in May, to end the above inflation formula for calculating fares and commit to reducing ticket prices in real terms.

As for overcrowding, passenger numbers are as high now as they were in the 1920s. HS2 will help when it comes on line in the mid 2030s, but faster and broader action is needed if the railways are to provide the speedy, efficient and convenient network for the whole country.

On the 50th anniversary of Beeching Report, the government has dipped a welcome toe in the water by committing £20 million to a new stations fund. Early signs are the fund will be significantly over-subscribed. As our Railways Fit for the Future campaign shows, the time has come not just for one-off re-openings (welcome though these are), but a coherent and far-reaching assessment of the case for new stations and the reopening of entire lines.

All this will cost money. But by committing to HS2, the government has shown it understands the benefits of investing in rail. Furthermore, as the débâcle with the West Coast franchise exposed, there are better and more efficient ways of running the railways. We will shortly publish new research comparing franchise models. In particular, a wider adoption of the model used by London Overground and Merseyrail might give better value for money and allow quicker response to local needs.

HS2 holds great potential; to make the most of that investment, government needs to make sure all of our railways are fit for the future.

See also:

Wheels still on despite HS2 delayDecember 7th, 2011

Train journeys from Hell: What is to be done?March 23rd, 2011

There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it’s still worth doingMarch 10th 2011

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  • LB

    Debt, debt and more debt.

    How about a simple rule.

    No subsidy for HS2. It’s such a great scheme the ticket buying public will pay the price for the great service it offers. Those tickets will pay for the debt, the interest, the running costs, the pensions of the staff.

    People living in Penzance won’t be impoverished to pay for it.

    Hell, how about making sure all MPs sell their pension funds, and invest in HS2 as well. It’s so great, they can’t lose. We could even force them to mortgage up their first and second homes to book. Multimillionaire Milliband brothers, who went to the same school as Boris, can’t possible complain. After all its what they are forcing others to do.

  • Newsbot9

    Without a subsidy it wouldn’t have been built. But no, it’s too important a project for your rich, it’ll speed up their travel.

    And of course you want to establish the principle that pension funds can be forcible sold, so you can plunder them too! You’re talking nonsense as ever.

  • Newsbot9

    HS2 is a massive and expensive boondoggle, which will under many models *hurt* the North. The same amount spent on upgrading existing lines, some of which are still not electrified, would be hugely more beneficial.

    Better still, divert the cash to reverse basic welfare cuts, which have a dramatically higher multiplier.

    And the government are committed to raising fees ever-higher, so don’t make me laugh!

  • LB

    Of course it is. That’s why they want it.They want fast travel, but don’t want to pay for it. that’s why its wrong.

    I agree entirely with you when you say it will hurt the north. Instead of working in the north, they will commute south.

    Look at the cost. 140 million buys one DLR extension. 30,000 million for HS2.

    Assuming no efficiencies of scale, 220 DLR extensions. Now you can’t fit those in London, so you could have light rail / trams in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, … all for the same price.

  • Newsbot9

    Your problem here is your strong defence of privilege in all other matters, so while you say it’s wrong, I don’t believe for a second that you don’t mean “we” rather than “they”.

  • LB

    I might use a train a couple of times a year.

    The rich can look after themselves. They don’t need subsidies. The problem is that subsidies are paid for by and large by the poor, because they are the ones screwed with the tax and the debt.

    it’s their pension money that’s been spent, It’s been spent on mad cap things like this. Likewise with the Olympics. 2.4 billion cost ends up at 12 bn. Legacy? Yep, its called debt. Paid for by the poor.

    So about the alternative, the DLR extensions. Which cities would get them?

  • Newsbot9

    Ah yes, the lies again, elitist, about pensions. You’re claiming that tax isn’t being collected, given it’s paid out of current revenue.

    You’re the one postulating DLR extensions. I’d electrify the remainder of the UK mainline and split the rest of the cash between rural bus services and reopening train stations.

  • John

    Read the links I provided above. There will be no need for a railway in 2030.

  • John

    Read the links I provided above. There will be no need for a railway in 2030.

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