HS2: Transport Triumph or White Elephant?

I’m agnostic on HS2.  In fact I have to admit I probably don’t have the technical expertise to make a decision — so I’m glad I’m not called on to do so.  But I can recognise a duff argument when I see one.

We have a hundred of the bien pensant tendency writing to the Telegraph on December 6th to urge the adoption of HS2.  They argue that investment in transport infrastructure is a pre-condition of economic growth.  I agree.  That’s an argument for infrastructure spending, but not necessarily an argument for HS2.

And they make much of the comparison between the UK, and Japan and France, which have a great deal more high-speed rail track than we have.  They even compare us adversely with Morocco and Saudi Arabia, which (they claim) have much more HS track than the UK.

But it seems to me that they miss a key point.  The UK is a (relatively) small, very crowded island.  France has roughly the same population as us, but nearly three times the land area.  Our population density (Wikipedia tells me) is 662/m2.  (That’s miles, not metres!)  Morocco has less that a third the population density, at 185/m2.  And Saudi Arabia has only 31/m2.

Two key conclusions follow.  First, a low population density makes it relatively easy to put new track in place without destroying existing homes, communities and other development.  Secondly, low population density means that population centres are relatively widely spaced — so that high-speed land transport is especially valuable.  Here in the UK we have less need for high-speed lines, and a much higher cost for installing them.  In a word, comparisons with Morocco and Saudi are spurious, and practically irrelevant.

Then, I am convinced that we should not look at HS2 in isolation, by asking, simply, is it worth it or not?  We should look at it against all the alternative ideas we might have.  Is HS2 more important to the British economy than the alternatives — like (say) Boris Island?

Boris says that we’re losing out on trade with (and investment from) China, because there are far more flights from China to Germany than to the UK.  We are jeopardising our position as a key business centre and as a magnet for foreign direct investment because access to the UK by air is so poor.  Are all those thousands of Chinese (and Indian and Russian and Brazilian) investors going to come to the UK because we can cut twenty minutes from the London/Birmingham rail journey?  Or are they going to come because they can get a flight to London?

Seems like a no-brainer to me.  But then I’m not a transport expert.

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15 Responses to HS2: Transport Triumph or White Elephant?

  1. Sue says:

    You know very well this is an “EU DIRECTIVE”, nothing at all to do with our government. They are simply following orders and pretending it’s them that are making the decisions. London to Birmingham, what a complete waste of time and money, not to mention the destruction of our countryside and loss of peoples homes.

    Who on earth wants to go to Birmingham?

    • Of course, Sue is right, otherwise, why would a country, saddled with the largest debt per capita, in the industrialised world (1), spend and fantastical figure on a railway line, at this time, especially when a fraction of the sum, spent on upgrades, would achieve much of the supposed benefit? (Full project costs, before over runs, approx £30 billion)

      It is like opening another bunch of credit cards when your first batch are all maxed out. It is sheer folly, no, unbelievable lunacy.

      Sadly, this just goes to prove that Mark Twain was right, when he said (substitute Government for Congress) “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”

      1. This figure ignores the skewed debts of Monaco and Switzerland. As of Jun 24th, 2009, each member of the British public owed $174,167 in cash, goods, or services to foreign banks, governments, companies or individuals in other countries. This is real money, real debt that has to be repaid – yes, it really does, somehow and has increased since. Vanity projects have no place in a time of such astronomic debt. … and we are supposed to trust politicians? Why?

    • Alan Smith says:

      Who wants to go the Birmingham, what a stupid comment. Guessing your from London/South East silly cow

      • Sean O'Hare says:

        Sue’s right both on the EU and about Birmingham. Nodbody really wants to go to Birmingham. It isn’t the most beautiful of cities is it? If you have to go on business then getting there half an our quicker than it currently takes is no geat advantage. Longer platforms, extra carriages and more frequent trains could easily satisfy any capacity problems arising in the foreseable future. Instead of stting on a HS train seeing pillars of concrete whizz by you can amuse yourself looking at the beautiful Chiltern countryside.

        What was the point in the name calling by the way? Oh and yes, I’m originally from London, have worked in Brum and currently live in the HS train free west country.

  2. Pingback: HS2: Transport Triumph or White Elephant? | Roger Helmer MEP « Nowoczesne przeprowadzki

  3. Martin says:

    HS2 is only useful for journeys from London to Birmingham. Investing in roads benefits every place that the road goes near. And you could buy a lot of road improvement for the price of HS2. How about a new national network of super motorways, designed for higher speed travel?

    • Alan Smith says:

      And on these new motorways how fast are you suggesting people drive at? Slightly dangerous and another stupid comment

      • Martin says:

        “30mph – how can man live at such speed?” Another believer in the “speed kills” lie. It doesn’t – only INAPPROPRIATE speed is dangerous. 70mph, safe on a motorway is dangerous in a town centre. Motorways are statistically our safest roads despite higher speeds. Roads could be designed for higher speeds with safety, given recent improvements in vehicle technology. So I simply suggest that people drive no faster than the design speed for the road and vehicle.

  4. Ian says:

    As if it isn’t bad enough that HS1 and HS2 are sections of the EU’s TEN-T network, it is even more galling to realise that Siemens will get a fat slice of the action too – and this despite the firm being found guilty of getting work through bribes on a number of occasions. On this basis the Thameslink train contract could quite legally be torn up – but money talks louder than Bombardier employees……………

  5. Gail says:

    Never mind the EU’s TEN-T network, who got the back hander?

  6. David Ashton says:

    I have said it before but I will say it again. Build one mile of railway and you can travel exactly one mile. Build one mile of runway and you can go anywhere in the world. No contest.

  7. Like all NuLabour thought-up plans, HS2 will end up a disaster again and I am highly surprised that the Coalition government is seemingly going forward to construct it. For it will provide little in economic returns for Britain in the long-term other than to give relative prestige with other nations and no more. For we should when looking to the UK’s future, be investing in things that will really change our economics and fix several problems all in one go. A single faster rail-link which will only reduce the time between Birmingham and London by 20 minutes will not do this. Indeed it does not make economic sense just like wind power it has to be said. In this respect we should be investing this near £20 billion (and up to £33 billion if the line extends to Manchester/ Leeds, £40 billion if taking into account the Heathrow link and taking the Scotland link into account, over £50 billion), into the Western Water Highway (WWH), a scheme that will create far more jobs during construction boosting thousands of new jobs, provide in perpetuity up to 10% of Britain’s energy needs through environmentally-friendly non-toxic hydro power (continual free energy at no cost to the British taxpayer) and balance the national roads networks by transposing 49% of heavy goods from the South to the North, thus reducing the high vehicle congestion in the South of England in one intelligent swoop. Indeed the WWH would cost more-or-less the same at £25 billion but where the benefits would be immense and put the UK on a future road of prosperity and new found wealth. HS2 will provide little benefit and only allow industry bosses (who can afford to pay the costly fares, not normal people) to have in reality an extra cup of coffee on the way and no more (for business meetings take far longer than a mere 20 minutes). But the worst thing to the taxpayer is that the HS2 will cost the nation an arm and leg in the process for what? Nothing has really changed therefore between the spending of NuLabour and the Coalition Government who have not again attained any real value-for-money for the British taxpayer and a foundation for the futures for our young. Indeed, before HS2 we should have been thinking of investing in the REBALANCING of our road networks, reducing road congestion through transference, building sustainable projects for our energy needs and rebalancing the North-South divide in economic terms. The WWH would do all this but the HS2 will not. Therefore it appears that our politicians are so blinkered that they will squander again our finite resources on something that will produce little. Put bluntly, deceiving people into believing something that simply is not true.

    Dr David Hill
    Chief Executive
    World Innovation Foundation

  8. Dr Adrian Morgan says:

    I have recently travelled on the 0741 from Birmingham to London with one stop at International in 62 minutes. Non stop this would have been 58 minutes. If trains capable of 140 mph are allowed to travel at 140 mph this could be 53 minutes. Are we really going to spend £17 BILLION to save FOUR MINUTES? BARKING! That should be spent on reopening railways to railless towns rendered such by those ******** Marples and Beeching and not connecting two already well connected cities.

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