Wheels still on despite HS2 delay

Lucy James of the Campaign for High Speed Rail says the delaying of the decision till the New Year is nothing to worry about - HS2 will still go ahead.


By Lucy James of the Campaign for High Speed Rail

Last Saturday, the government announced its decision to re-examine sections of the High Speed Two (HS2) route between London and Birmingham. As a result, the official decision on whether to go ahead with HS2 will no longer be made in December, but in the New Year.

The section of the route in question is around Amersham, where the government are considering spending £500 million on a 1½ mile tunnel to connect two previously planned tunnels that run underneath a section of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the Chilterns.

The delay has been incurred in order to allow a feasibility study to take place into the tunnel in question and to reexamine the overall environmental impact of the proposed route more broadly.

The government claim it won’t increase the cost of the project overall as they will find the money by making savings on other sections of the route. It is impossible to comment on this at this stage with the information available from the government. However, on the basis of the information available, this announcement is a fundamentally good thing for two reasons.

Firstly, it is important to make HS2 as environmentally friendly as possible. Despite outrageous accusations to the contrary, supporters of HS2 are not out to tear up the countryside.

Last week a report by Greengauge 21, commissioned by groups including the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the RSPB, found:

“If the detailed planning is done properly, HS2 should make a positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

This tunnel has the potential to offset some of the environmental impacts of HS2 in an AONB. If you can achieve this without spending more money overall that has got to be a good thing.

Secondly, tinkering with the route shows the government’s commitment to the project. It has always been important to be open to route improvements. After all, this was surely the point of carrying out the public consultation. It is only right the government takes into consideration suggestions for route improvement as they are doing and that the project goes ahead using the best route possible.

It is more important to do it right than to do it fast.

The key rationale for supporting high speed rail is the impending capacity crisis hurtling towards the UK’s railways. Sections of the East Coast Main Line are already blocked and Network Rail predicts the West Coast Main Line will be at full capacity by 2024. Lack of drastic action could ultimately lead to the serious decline of Britain’s railways infrastructure.

Some of the groups that oppose HS2 claim sufficient capacity can be created by implementing a set of incremental upgrades on the West Coast Main Line. However, the last time the WCML was upgraded it went over budget by £6 billion and took longer than a decade.

This illustrates both the financial difficulties of upgrading a live line, and the chaos it causes to commuters.

This is a typical short-term make-do-and-mend approach that will not be sufficient in the long-run; in the words of Network Rail (pdf):

“[After 2024 the WCML] is effectively full and any interventions (track upgrades) will be disproportionately expensive compared with the benefits gained.”

HS2 is important on the basis of other issues core issues for the left.

Firstly, HS2 will go some way in helping to rebalance the national economy. In rather simple terms this is because increased connectivity leads to better economic productivity, known as the agglomeration effect. HS2 is a positive step to making sure no regions are left behind as they were in the 1980s.

In the same way, HS2 is a long-term infrastructure investment that could help lead to regional job creation. In a report (pdf) from Core Cities released in June, leading economists estimated the creation of one million jobs outside of the South East rests on the rail capacity that HS2 will provide.

Were the project to be cancelled, the UK would miss its chance to deal with a capacity crisis that would be irreversibly damaging for Britain’s railways. It would lead to increasingly disgruntled passengers and an inevitable political headache for the next Labour government. It would stand in the way of boosting economic productivity and job creation in the regions.

Instead we are witnessing a minor delay to allow the consideration of a minor alteration to a project that millions will reap the benefits of for generations.

HS2 has the potential to be the greatest rail project since the Victorian era, and one which can set the tone of travel and infrastructure for the next century. Its success will not be affected by a one month delay or a new tunnel to save an AONB.

We are still confident HS2 will be given the green light in the New Year.

See also:

The railways: Yet another broken market in the UKBen Mitchell, August 19th 2011

Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councilsShamik Das, September 9th 2011

High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogmaProfessor David Begg, July 19th 2011

How to do high speed rail wellRichard Hebditch, April 7th 2011

There are concerns with High Speed Rail but it’s still worth doingRichard George, March 10th 2011

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25 Responses to “Wheels still on despite HS2 delay”

  1. Imogen Radford

    Wheels still on despite HS2 delay: http://t.co/pDjGGWG7 writes @lucyjames01 @Biz4HS2 #HS2

  2. Lucy James

    Wheels still on despite HS2 delay: http://t.co/pDjGGWG7 writes @lucyjames01 @Biz4HS2 #HS2

  3. Political Planet

    Wheels still on despite HS2 delay: Lucy James of the Campaign for High Speed Rail says the delaying of the decis… http://t.co/V8VRA97b

  4. Anonymous

    You’re bonkers.

    The ticket prices will never cover the interest costs, the running costs.

    It has a negative return.

    The end result is that poor bugger working on minimum wage, who is still too poor to buy that ticket, is going to have to go without to fund someone rich to get cheaper travel.

    It’s rent seeking, and it needs fools in government to screw the electorate.

  5. Civic Voice

    Debates still raging over pros + cons of HS2 with signs that more will be done to reduce environmental impact http://t.co/9bdrGLHU

  6. Tom Evans

    Wheels still on despite HS2 delay: http://t.co/pDjGGWG7 writes @lucyjames01 @Biz4HS2 #HS2

  7. Tejlander

    At last, some sensible objectivity on the subject of high speed rail in the UK! Listening to the bizarre anti-HS2 coalition of home counties Tory NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard-ers) and Janet Street-Porter-style ‘environmentalists’ would almost be enough to make you think the project was doomed.
    However, look at France and Japan; two of the best examples of what a high-speed rail network can do for a country’s economy. We are decades behind those nations, and it’s about time we committed to taking this important step into the 21st century.

  8. Primly Stable

    HS2’s own figures show that the vast majority of permanent jobs created by the line will be in London. It’s a myth that it will create jobs in the regions.

    HS2 is a massively subsidised luxury travel option for the wealthiest 1% that will do nothing to narrow the north/south divide. Nor will it help the environment – the owners of Birmingham Airport are fully behind the plan, because they see it as a way of making Birmingham the third runway for Heathrow. That’s right folks, if HS2 goes ahead it will lead to an INCREASE in air travel.

    But the Manny Shinwell tendency on the Left says that because it goes through “Tory areas” and annoys “Home Counties NIMBYs” it must be a good thing.

    And comparisons with France and Japan are utterly pointless as Britain is not France or Japan. We’re a fraction of the size and have completely different population densities.

  9. March Society

    Debates still raging over pros + cons of HS2 with signs that more will be done to reduce environmental impact http://t.co/9bdrGLHU

  10. Mike Geddes

    Among the errors in Lucy James’ piece are the following:

    1. Greengauge 21, whose report on the environmental impact of HS2 purports to refresh its tarnished environmental credentials, are so closely tied to the pro-HS2 lobby that their work cannot be taken seriously.

    2. The Core Cities report does NOT show that 1 million jobs rest on HS2. The Core Cities report cites a consultancy report for them by Volterra, who develop a number of hypothetical economic scenarios for the core cities. The highly unlikey ‘best case’ scenario talks about 1m jobs. But this is for the period up to 2020 – well before HS2 would even be running!!

    Have you actually read the report, Lucy?

  11. Jerry Marshall

    The problem with HS2 is that the net cost to the taxpayer is £1700 per family and it will cost 4 jobs for every one created. Spending so much on a single line – which is only 56% loaded at peak times and 2 more carriages due next year – is simply the wrong priority. Two more carriages could be added and four line bottlenecks dealt with to triple capacity if needed. There are better more affordable ways to improve the railways and reduce journey times for more people more quickly. Why cut bus services and jeopardise the Northern Hub to subsidise what Philip Hammond called a ‘Rich Man’s Toy’?

  12. Newsbot9

    There are no wheels and never were. HS2 is instead of important projects like fully electrifying the other main lines in this country!

  13. Rich

    Nobody is getting a cheque for £1700 through their letterbox if HS2 doesn’t go ahead Jerry, so stop lying. Shoving extra carriages on is a pathetic short-term fix, and it’s patently obvious to anyone who’s used them that inter-city trains out of Euston during peak time are *not* 56% loaded. Your alternatives have been demolished by seasoned experts and your experience in railway planning matters is nil. The only way to get the required future capacity out of New St to International will mean hundreds of houses being demolished, far more than HS2, but that won’t matter because none of them are yours. You have nothing to offer other than selfish nimbyism.

  14. Anonymous

    Do the words Kettle, Pot and Black spring to mind Mike – given your partisan views on HS2, you are hardly in a position to question the objectivity of anyone commenting on this vexed topic and if readers want a master class exhibition in how to invent a negative HS2 linked story you;ll have to go far to beat this one – http://stophs2.org/news/3882-public-sector-strikeoccupy – courtesy of Mike Geddes himself!

  15. Anonymous

    You mean a bit like the schemes that are already going ahead, such as Electrification of the GMWL from Paddington to Cardiff, Electrification of the Manchester – Leeds Route, Electrification of the Manchester – Liverpool Route, Liverpool to Blackpool and Manchester to Blackpool Routes?

  16. Mike Geddes

    Thanks for the advert, padav (whoever you are – why not come out from under your pseudonym?).

    Let me say a little more about why the Greengauge report on HS2 and carbon emissions is not what it is cracked up to be. Lucy’s quote says that if the ‘detailed planning’ of HS2 is done properly it could reduce carbon emissions. But the report actually says that if it were to do so it would be dependent not on ‘detailed planning’ but big issues like how electricity is generated. In other words, any reduction in carbon would not be down to HS2 but to energy policy and other major policies like land use planning. So HS2 is largely an irrelevance if we look at the broader picture.

  17. Greengauge 21

    RT @leftfootfwd: Wheels still on despite HS2 delay http://t.co/hdUWVqKE

  18. Technical Slip

    The main problem with HS2 is that it is being created, tinkered with and implemented in isolation from other transport policy. It will be p*ssing in the wind unless it is coupled with other crucial steps such as:

    1) massively improving facilities for freight rail and (importantly) legislating to push freight off the roads and onto rail
    2) cutting air traffic, especially domestic mainland air traffic which will have barely a leg to stand on (necessity-wise) once HS rail comes in North-South. East-West is a bit of a different question.
    3) rebalancing population and economy from London & South East to the regions, probably using taxes. If a genuinely rebalanced economy is desired, it makes much more sense to work on the northern sections of the line first
    4) get a HS line from Liverpool to Hull via Manchester and Leeds fast-tracked


  19. Ian Jones

    The case for High Speed 2 http://t.co/EfWRxOgT #PMQs

  20. All signals are go for HS2 | Left Foot Forward

    […] we reported last month: HS2 is a long-term infrastructure investment that could help lead to regional job […]

  21. Look Left – Wonga’s student ‘scam’ comes unstuck | Left Foot Forward

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  22. Bob

    Hs2 may cause disruption to some but it isbetter for the greater good
    Railways and Motorways are like veins and arteries,
    England’s arteries have been clogged up ince the Victorian era!
    We need to fix that whether you like it or not

  23. immediate edge

    … [Trackback]

    […] Information to that Topic: leftfootforward.org/2011/12/high-speed-rail-hs2-announcement-delay/ […]

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