I recently attended a lunch debate with a very serious senior executive from the logistics and transportation business. As I’m not an expert in that area, I decided to ask him a fairly simple-minded question.
I said: “The UK government proposes to spend £50 billion on a High Speed Rail project. But many informed commentators seem to think that £80 billion is a more realistic figure, so let’s say €100 billion. Imagine for a moment that you, Sir, were Transport Minister in the UK, in David Cameron’s government, and that you had a budget of €100 billion to spend on transport infrastructure. Would you spend it on HS2, or on other projects?”.
There was some wry amusement amongst the audience, but when it died down the expert gave me a serious answer.
HS2 is far too focused on passenger traffic, he said, and seems to ignore freight issues, despite the objective of getting more freight off the road and onto rail. It also ignores the fact that roads should be a more serious priority, with gridlock on major routes already imposing a huge cost on the British economy, and undermining competitiveness. My expert said that he would spend much more on roads, and he would focus rail spend on freight capacity, not high-speed passenger traffic.
His closing line said it all: “In my view, HS2 is simply a Trophy Project”. Or as I like to put it, HS2 is a train set for politicians.