Let’s be clear about HS2


I’ve written before about HS2, though not for some time.  I still find people who don’t understand the basic problem with the scheme. The argument in favour seems to be: other countries have high speed rail, so we must have it too. It’s modern and with it and a sign of commitment to the future. It will rejuvenate the economies of the North, and spread London growth rates to Manchester and Sheffield. It will save twenty minutes on the London/Birmingham journey. It will provide more capacity.

Most of these arguments are spurious. Yes, it may save a few minutes off the journey time, but as has been widely pointed out, these days people can work on the train, so a few minutes here or there is no loss. Yes, it would provide more capacity — but there are much cheaper and less disruptive ways of doing that. No, it won’t rejuvenate the North — indeed there is a good case that it will simply exacerbate the North/South imbalance and bring business south to London, not tempt it North to Yorkshire and Lancashire. Thisd has been the typical experience in other countries.

But there’s an overarching point that has been largely ignored or poorly understood. There are fundamental geographical reasons why high speed rail is less appropriate in the UK than in, say, France. France has a similar population to the UK, but a land area well over twice as big. This means first of all that it is less densely developed, with a lower population density. So there is more spare land through which to build railway lines, and at lower cost. For the same length of route, we in the UK have to knock down more property, and inconvenience more local residents.

Secondly, with a lower population density, major cities in France are more widely spread, so there are longer distances between stations. It undermines the whole point of high speed rail if you still need to stop every thirty miles for the next town. In France you have long distances between cities, where high speed rail can show its advantages and deliver significant benefits. In the UK, either you stop more often. Or you fail to stop at intermediate cities, so the residents of those cities fail to benefit – but still face the all problems of noise and disruption and compulsory purchase.

A small, densely populated island like the UK simply doesn’t get the same benefits from high speed rail as a larger country with a less dense population, like the US or France.

Now we’re talking about a grandiose idea to connect Manchester and Sheffield across the Pennines, to create a “Northern Hub” to compete with London. Nothing wrong with that in principle. But the objective must be to deliver secure and affordable trans-Pennine transport, not to clip a couple of minutes off the journey times with a vastly expensive project.

Which brings us to the key argument against HS2: we certainly need new investment in transport infrastructure in the UK, but high speed rail is an absurdly expensive and inefficient way of doing it. The question is not “Would politicians like a new train set, a new prestige project?”, but “What is the best way to invest in transport infrastructure for Britain?”. It’s certainly not HS2.

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29 Responses to Let’s be clear about HS2

  1. Sorry Roger, I didn’t notice you in the Hustings audience the other night. This is near identical to the points I made in my presentation. I did include the bit where Justine Greening saw nothing wrong in bulldozing acient woodlands, saying “We can plant another somewhere else”. Yes, it really is a quote. Bizzare or wot?
    Keep the pressure on.

  2. Reblogged this on magnuskwaszenko and commented:
    It just does not make any sense to have a prestige project with little material value. The quality of infrastructure needs improvement not the speeds.

  3. Flyinthesky says:

    This has TEN-T written all over it. We are, yet again, trying to implement someone elses game plan, notwithstanding trying to pass it off as our own. It isn’t rocket science to conclude that the investment would be far better spent upgrading and repairing the existing infrastrucure. It is in effect portraying a chrome plated white elephant placed in front of and to conceal a turd.
    In the real world this project would not even be up for consideration.

  4. Ex-expat Colin says:

    Modern Britain they say…still on wheels? No Maglev type. Trouble is the VI’s have driven us so far into the garbage bin the only thing we can devise is extremely dangerous wheeled train systems. Don’t care what their train Safety Case says.

    But, but , but…its the jobs that will be created. Yep, for a short while for most. Then its leaves on the track, nicked cables, failed signalling (Virgin), maintenance of this and that. Repetition!

    What happened to teleconferencing…oh, broadband not very good?

  5. Maureen Gannon says:

    But surely this is a directive from our masters ? I believe this was started in Frankfurt and will cover the whole of Europe how much easier for the euro police to traverse the continent should they be needed. much like the autobahn.
    can confirm as this is what I have been told Rogrer

    • Roger Helmer MEP says:

      Maureen — I believe you’re right. But the project fails on its own terms, never mind Cardinal Richelieu pulling the strings.

      • Maureen Gannon says:

        But Roger this would be another nail in Europes coffin if the general public knew this, momentum is growing every opportunity should be used to let the public know more of their taxes spent at the behest of Europe .especially as it’s for a train that very few want . also along with the reason they are being turned into cities and regions , they are being told it is for democracy,not knowing the new name will be European Region’s and Cities so instead of the EU we will be citizens of the ERC , so when did we stop being subjects of the Queen?

  6. tapestry says:

    Trains will be used as mobile prisons and execution points, with guillotine cars, and coffins filled up and sealed in time for unloading at the next station. That’s assuming enough people survive the fracking of the countryside to make the mobile population cull facility necessary. Once you’re inside the HS2 rail system there will be no escape, with sealed platforms as on the Eurostar. Police States require this kind of facility.

  7. Jane Davies says:

    There was me thinking this stupid idea had died a silent death, I guess I get a bit out of touch over here in Canada. Roger you have hit the nail on the head as to why this type of transportation is not viable in the UK, it’s not high speed if it keeps having to stop every few miles. I have always thought the sky high cost of this white elephant to save around 30 minutes on the total journey time was one of those back of the fag packet ideas that some politicians think up in the hope of getting their names in the history books. Ego politics is rampant and must be nipped in the bud.

    • Roger Helmer MEP says:

      Thanks Jane. So many of these daft ideas come up from “politicians” who’ve never had a proper job and don’t know how the real world works. Miliband’s proposed energy price freeze for example — the only thing it will achieve is to block desperately needed new energy infrastructure investment.

  8. Anne Palmer says:

    HS2 is and always was just one part of the EU’s Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) Policy. In other words the EU requires national Governments to allow the EU, to have‘Sovereignty’ (or ‘authority’) to decide what we must have on our very own United Kingdom on land, sea and air.

    Another part of TEN-T is The EU’s Single European Sky. This grieves me greatly as I remember very well how important it is to make sure we have enough ‘planes for our defence here in the UK as well as our ships.
    http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/11/1452&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en Lots more up to date E-mail Addresses of course

    And here also is another part of the above, The EU’s Motorway in the Sea. So that EU ships can come and go as they please-IF we may still be allowed to have such as ‘UK Ships’ of course. Brussels, 21.11.2011

    COM(2011) 782 final Developing a Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean Area

    Click to access com_2011_782_en.pdf

    If this or any British Government agrees with this, they will be giving away “Sovereignty” (Authority) over our land, sea and sky. They have already got YOU for you are all EU Citizens. Never again will we be able sing Rule Britannia, Will we? The web- http://europa.eu/news/index_en.htm

    It is up to UKIP to make known to all people, that to remain in the EU will be a disaster for everyone here in the UK, and a terrible permanent loss of FREEDOM-forever and absolutely no point in electing or paying to put any one in either of those Houses in our Parliament Building.

    Writ large is this one the EU’s web site, “Connecting Europe”, Delivering The Trans European Transport Network. I will place just a couple of website and EU Com Documents on the subject.
    COM 2011(650 final/2),
    COM 2011(665 final)

    I did respond to the UK’s C 10 September 2010, so recorded in Hansard.Consultation Paper regarding the EU’s Trans-European Transport Policy (TEN-T) Policy

    Please note, “In 2011 the Commission put forward two proposals which would significantly overhaul the operation of TEN-T. The first would move the programme from a voluntary to a compulsory basis (i.e. Member States would be forced to introduce transport network changes specified in an EU Regulation). The UK Government estimates that this would cost between £64 and £137 billion. The second proposal is for a Connecting Europe Facility to put the budget for TEN-T on a multi-year footing and would see a significant increase to the budget. The UK Government is resisting both of these changes”. “Further information, including maps of the rail and road networks, is available on the European Commission website. Further transport-related briefings are available on the Parliament website”. UK idea? Or the EU’s?
    See http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN00478/transeuropean-transport-networks-tent

  9. dave roderick says:

    new name for tories (tesco tories)

  10. Mike Stallard says:

    I have suspected, like Flyinthesky, that this was an EU project and that it is mad to assume(makes an ass of you and me) that what works in Poland and Spain will work in England. Whenever I put it on other people’s blogs, though, it was just ignored. I had not heard of TEN-T and have just looked it up. I thought it might be
    all part of DG MOVE’s plan for European Transport, but I didn’t know the name.
    So thank you for a very lovely and trenchant article which has helped me a lot.

    PS I am a Railway Expert myself, having played Railroad Tycoon right to the very last level and thus made a very great deal of imaginary money…

    • Jane Davies says:

      Perhaps Cameron should put this game on his list for Santa?

      • Flyinthesky says:

        For goodness sake Jane, no, he’ll try it with real trains and he won’t be as good as Mike at playing it.

      • Jane Davies says:

        I did say it tongue in cheek……he he he….

      • Flyinthesky says:

        Jane, I know it was tongue in cheek as was my response.
        The serious comment is we’re all collateral damage, it is a global phenomenon, in someone elses game, it isn’t going to end well, some of us have realised.
        eu, un, us and whoever else you can think of, they’re all playing the game for their own empowerment ends. I reiterate, It isn’t going to end well.
        This is the reason I support UKIP. We’re not going to effect a change by doing the same thing. I’m sick of tactically voting for what we have to avoid, the same see saw between the vested interests. I’m sure it’s the same in Canada jumping from party to party who essentially support the same agenda.
        UKIP may well be the answer to our situation or maybe not, sorry Roger, but the first order of business is a return to self determination and governance. If Roger is representative it’s the way and only way forward. It’s time to consider our own position intead of facillitating someone elses.
        My bird has but a short time to flutter, I’m allright and will be allright. It’s my children and my grandchildren I fear for as this prevailing situation becomes more normalised day by day. If we don’t call it out it will prevail to the detriment of their future.

      • Ex-expat Colin says:

        Heres a newer game today…vote in HoC tomorrow ref the EAW 35 point opt back in !!!

        European Arrest Warrant which is the sort of thing that we follow through with and nobody else much does..America!!

        Rees Mogg (remember him?) will team in up with UKIP on a High Court action if they do pull us back in:

        Dunno really, but stuff is ramping up.

      • Jane Davies says:

        Yup, I agree Flyinthesky………I have to add though I have never voted tactically somehow I could never bring myself to do it.

    • Flyinthesky says:

      The entire eu project is railway tycoon but with a subtle difference, they don’t have to purchase the game in the first instance and they don’t have to be proficient at playing it, any winning position it gains in the game with everyone elses risk and money, power influence and wealth etc it accrues to itself. Any losses are sociialised on the rest of us. You have to admit it’s a fine game plan.

  11. Anne Palmer says:

    The EU Legislation re TEN-T is so old this poem was written quite some time ago, also I answered a couple of UK Goverment questionaires on the subect Recorded in Hansard, however, here is part of my research here on some-ones web-site. , http://ccconcordat.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/sacrificing-our-sovereignty-hs2-and-ten.html

    The High Speed Train. Part of the EU’s “Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) Policy”

    Today we were told of things that are new
    We are at last to have the H.S 2,
    No matter the cost of this new Train,
    Money for this will be found once again.
    Bridges are crumbling, they are so old,
    Disasters waiting as my tale unfolds,
    Motorways closed as repairs are done,
    ‘Tis the HS2 where the money has gone.

    Our roads are neglected and have been for years,
    Many are the ‘pot-holes’ that cause many tears,
    For money is needed for the High Speed Train,
    Never for Roads to have money again.
    People’s homes that stand in the way,
    Will be demolished, for those folks have no say.
    All to save those thirty minutes of travel,
    But there is more as my tales unravel.

    Lights not lit in the dark of night,
    To save more money, yet it isn’t right
    For in the dimness it is hard to see,
    The hazards that are waiting for you and me.
    Hard shoulders on Motorways into use have come,
    No widening of motorways will now ever be done,
    Maybe nothing on our roads will e’re be the same
    But Hey! We are to have the High Speed Train.

    The cost from each house-hold, so we are told
    Will be a thousand pounds whether young or old,
    Yet perhaps none of us can afford to pay,
    But we have never yet been allowed a say.
    Not one High Speed train into Birmingham City,
    Time saved on the Journey, will be lost, ‘tis a pity
    The half-hour saved will be needed however,
    Through another mode of travel, not so clever.

    Whose great idea was this big spend on Trains?
    That many people travel on just now and again?
    Our Politicians never said the words to me or you,
    That our sovereign Government have to obey the EU?

  12. clairethinker says:

    Mr Helmer’s summary of why we don’t need HS2 is one of the most cogent I have read. I think the politicians fell for a lot of pressure selling from the lobbyists of the train-building industry. And there is always in some people’s minds a glamour about something newer, faster…and more expensive. It’s a 1960s vision of the future. Billions all to knock 20 mins off the time to get to Birmingham – it would be cheaper to move Birmingham.
    One other thing that HS2 won’t do is provide any freight services at all. If we really do want to help our remaining struggling industries, surely what we need to do is to put money into improving goods services all over the country,

    • tapestry says:

      Helmer’s common sense is so apparent on HS2. How come it’s o absent in his policies about Fracking and the destruction of the British countryside? It’s all a bit odd if you ask me.

      • Maureen Gannon says:

        Tapestry , Have to ask one simple question ,are you aware that Fracking has been taking place for a long time but it was started before the green lobby grew and wanted us to go back in time and uninvent the wheel,
        There is some nice pictures in this article that show that the enviroment has been protected.. this has not destroyed it’s surroundings . as HS2 will do deprive people of there homes as they know them , I do not understand how it’s ok to disrespect people and their enviroment but to be up in arms against something that will benifit all.

  13. George Morley says:

    Roger, Are you sure that they have the name right HS2 ?
    I think that there has been a corruption there and it should read H2S cos that stinks and so does this.idea !

  14. Techno says:

    Sorry this comment is a bit late, I have been away.

    I live in Leeds and the sentiment I hear around here is largely negative. There is still a lot of bad feeling that government in London has repeatedly refused to fund a tram system in the city centre, when both Manchester and Sheffield have one.

    Also, there is simply no room in the city centre for another train line, so it would have to be built on the outskirts, and it would take 20 minutes to get to that station from the city centre, thereby negating the journey shortening effect.

    • Jane Davies says:

      But common sense does not enter in the negotiations, it’s all about kudos….”when I was minister of transport my government did this and that” syndrome.

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