HS2: Not the best way to spend £32 billion


Early this morning I Tweeted, in an off-hand and tangential sort of way, “I wonder how much good hunting country will be bisected by HS2?”.  So inevitably, when I went on BBC Five Live an hour or so later, to talk about HS2, the interviewer wanted to couch the discussion in terms of the Tweet, and I had to struggle to get back to the heart of the issue.

Recently I was in an ultra-smart new office block near Birmingham, and was stunned to hear that the whole building was on the HS2 route, and would have to be demolished.

I don’t think we’ve thought carefully enough about this project.  For a start, we must remember that Britain is a small, densely-populated country.   Compared to France or Germany, we have much less space, and shorter distances between cities — and even more so compared to the USA or China.  So with shorter distances and more frequent stops, the time savings on high speed trains are rather minimal in the UK compared to those other countries.  And if, as seems to be the case, we have to have out-of town stations, then the taxi-ride into town will take more time than HS2 saves.

Railways are ideal for carrying coal across the USA, or China.  They are much less useful for re-stocking a supermarket in Leicester.  They are simply much less relevant in a geographically small country.  And since 90%+ of our freight goes by road, while less than 10% goes by rail, maybe we should be spending more on our roads.

There are issues with rail capacity, but they could be addressed more cheaply, and with much less disruption, with longer platforms and more rolling stock on existing lines.  And the main bottleneck on the rail system is on commuter traffic, which HS2 will do little to address.

I think the government is asking itself the wrong question.  It’s asking “Would it be nice to have new High Speed Rail links in the UK?”, and the answer is naturally Yes — provided it doesn’t go through your backyard.  It’s all about boys’ toys.  Would your ten-year-old son like a Hornby Train Set costing a few hundred pounds?  You bet he would!  Would you like a sports car costing a few tens of thousands?  Probably.  The trouble is that politicians’ new toys come in at a few tens of billions, and at the tax-payers’ expense.

The question that the government should be asking is “If we have £32 billion to spend on infrastructure to boost the economy, is HS2 the best way to spend it?”.  I think not.

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16 Responses to HS2: Not the best way to spend £32 billion

  1. maureen gannon says:

    And I think not.
    Empty bedroom tax while we send money to the millioaaires in India they want to complete TEN-T while destroying our country, and change it so that our identity is lost while duping the populace with an in or out , did I tell you Roger I have a flock of pigs fly past my window daily,
    We are trapped have you ever thought if they ran a thread through their flag [it will never be mine] it would look like barbed wire,,

  2. Gary Rickard says:

    While our armed forces are being closed down, we blow £32 billion (that we have to borrow) shaving half an hour off the commute from east Europe to a Manchester benefits office.

    Meanwhile, Heathrow is fit to burst. Could it be another bit of appeasement for the train loving/airline hating LibDems?

    As judgements go, I think it’s a bad one. At least it’s not windmills!

    • Rich Tee says:

      Some people say it is intended to be part of a European high speed network. That is to say, it is a project driven by the European Union. Sounds plausible to me.

      • mikestallard says:

        Well here’s the evidence – although our host can probably do better than me. European Railway AGency promotes safe and compatible rail systems (ERA), based in Valenciennes, Fr. Its aims are to integrate national rail networks. It has a 26 million euro budget and 165 posts. 23% of the staff are Belgian. This quango comes directly under the Directorate MOVE which, among other things is tasked with building the EUs core trans European infrastructure networks, including rail. (Source EU in a nutshell by Lee Rotherham.)

  3. Chris. says:

    I support UKIP and I agree with Roger on most things must HS2 is a good idea. The West Coast Main Line will be full in 10 years. A lot of freight still goes by rail. This line will be connected to HS1 and Heathrow and should go to Scotland.


  4. Mike Spilligan says:

    It’s already been said that we haven’t got £32 bilions to spend on this white elephant – it’s another addition to our debts – and as you point out there are other matters which should take a higher priority. What disturbs me more is that the MSM have portrayed the opposition as “nimbyism” (at Government request?) when the main factor is economics; and I haven’t seen or heard (though it could have happened) anyone question the absurd figure of “100,000 new jobs”.

    • rfhmep says:

      Even if it were 100,000 new (temporary) jobs, that would be £320,000 per job. There are cheaper approaches to job creation.

  5. Rich Tee says:

    I like trains, and I was initially in favour of this project, but once I considered the details I turned against it. The reasons against it are as stated by Roger:
    – Britain is too small for it to be viable. The argument that we have to have one because France and China have one is fallacious for this reason, they are larger countries. Japan has one but this is because they became a technologically advanced country after WWII because they didn’t have to spend any money on defence. Note also that the Japanese economy has been languishing since 1990 as well.
    – the stations will have to be outside of town, which means somebody like me will have to get a bus out to it which will cancel out any time benefit, which isn’t worth paying for anyway, all things considered. They said on BBC Breakfast yesterday that they plan to build an extra line into Leeds City Station. Well, anybody who knows Leeds will know that the station is elevated on a Victorian viaduct in a built up area and god only knows how they will build an extra line on to that!

  6. rfhmep says:

    Remember Japan is more or less linear, especially as the mountainous hinterland is not ideal for railways. I’m told Japan (main island) is around 1250 miles long, which might make sense for high speed rail.

  7. mikestallard says:

    Now look, I spent two whole years (I am retired) playing Railroad Tycoon so I know how to run a railway! I have built railways all over the world (the African one is the hardest).
    What you need is a regular stream of people or goods and you need to keep updating regularly to make a profit. You are in it for one thing – money. But if you are mean, then you fail. The best way to make money is to make sure of a really efficient and reliable track with new vehicles.
    Do you know what? I do not think any of these provisos work for the HS2.

    Not one. I forecast BANKRUPTCY. And the Director ends up with a little note: YOU ARE NO LONGER IN CHARGE OF A COMPANY.

    As for making new jobs – how about striding into the 21st century by refurbishing our canal system? We could easily pass a few laws to make people travel, very slowly, by canal.

  8. harrybeckhough says:

    This is a major Con by EU (under instruction) to cause more wasteful expenditure making our present bankrupt state even worse by forcing such major, senseless despoiling of our countryside, even worse than the Wind scam; it must be thrown out using every possible means and persuasion, rousing not only MPs but especially our people in areas concerned

  9. j.catling says:

    I spend a lot of time driving through Spain and France, their toll roads are great,there are places to stop over night, in secure areas, places to stop and have a picnic, with toilet facilities. Now if the government were to adopt the idea of toll roads with these things in mind I believe high speed trains wouldn’t be a requirement. People could enjoy driving to their destination, knowing that on route there would be the facilities they need. I mean, look how small our lay bys are! One juganought and it’s full, no toilets, nowhere to picnic. Look at the road network first before changing the railways.

    • Peter Roberts says:

      Why would you want toll roads?

      We as drivers pay many times over for our roads already and it’s a disgrace that such a tiny amount of our taxes are spent on roads provision. The money being spent on HS2 would provide all the road infrastructure we could possibly need for decades to come and the difference between motoring related taxation and spending on roads would pay for HS2 in less than 1 year.

      Toll roads are not an option unless an amount equivalent to the fuel tax and VED spent driving along the tolled road is reimbursed to the road user.

  10. neilfutureboy says:

    If this is a sensible investment it will repay at least 10% a year – £3.3 billion. Call it £10 million a day abive and beyond the running costs. I would guess that is somewhjere between £100 and £1000 added to every fair 🙂

    One alternative would be fully automated rail with single carraige units every couple of minutes, thereby cutting waiting times. That might save about 15 minutes per passenger.

    Another would be to end the scandal of British public projects costing at least 8 times what they do elsewhere in the world. For example the Norwegians have been cutting tunnels at £4 million per km. that would mean a dualled tunnel from London to Sotland (saving the office block & the countryside) for £5 billion.

  11. DougS says:


    “….politicians’ new toys come in at a few tens of billions, and at the tax-payers’ expense…..”

    I wish TV interviewers would keep asking them where the money comes from. Better still, if ministers were obliged to preamble all big spending announcements by stating:

    ‘We’ll be taking this money from private sector taxpayers – under threat of imprisonment.
    We might borrow some but that’ll have to be paid back, with interest, by the the same people.
    We might print some – good at inflating away government debt but bad for everyone else’

    They’re not going to volunteer this sort of thing, so it’s up to interviewers to force the issue!

  12. Malcolm Edward says:

    HS2 seems vastly too expensive to me, and means too much capital concentrated on one route rather than shared on track improvements around the country.
    If additional track capacity is needed, then surely they need to look at ways of providing it more cheaply. The running and maintenance costs of train and track increase very rapidly with speed. Why not limit the top speed to 140 mph say – it might then be possible to find a cheaper path, perhaps following existing routes, and the line could curve to avoid obstacles.
    In general terms, the expense incurred on a project is an indication of the resources consumed, and hence arguably the impact on the environment. On the current basis, flying will be cheaper than HS2, and so I conclude flying will be more environmentally friendly than HS2.

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