The HS2 folly

It’s probably fair to say that a rail journey that should have taken me a little more than an hour, but actually took me more than five hours, has a large part to play in this particular commentary.

HS2 image webBut how can we be looking at spending tens of billions of pounds on the HS2 when our existing network is crying out for further investment?

I am continually facing the people of Warwickshire at public meetings and hearing their calls for more visible policing.

So sitting on a train for five hours gave me time to reflect on the huge sums of money going into the HS2 project, when police forces around the country are facing dramatic budget reductions.

We are looking at 25 years of disruption with HS2, yet on the other hand we are told there isn’t the money to maintain policing levels.

I can’t help thinking back to Concorde and an article that appeared in ‘Flight International’ at the time, stating ‘no transport system that has halved journey times has ever failed’. Well, we can see what happened to Concorde. Just because it’s faster doesn’t mean it is better.

There is not even the argument that new technology is being created by HS2, it is simply implementing systems in place elsewhere in Europe.

I was supposed to be chairing a meeting of the Independent Police and Crime Commissioners in London, and thankfully my Deputy Eric Wood managed to step in, so my thanks to him!

HS2 will have a huge impact on Warwickshire, its environment and its population.

It’s a folly we can ill afford and with savings impacting on the entire public sector I urge the Government to reconsider and reflect if there aren’t better uses for £50 billion – if indeed that is a true reflection of the final cost.

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6 comments

  1. I’m struggling to understand what part of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s brief requires him to make statements about investment in the rail industry.

  2. Ron,
    Not sure that HS2 is an issue that the PCC should use this website to campaign against.

    I have an opposing view in that the rail infrastructure is now so stretched that we need the extra capacity of a new line to enable the engineers to spend more time on maintaining the existing assets.

  3. I left a reply yesterday wondering why Ron was using his public office as a platform for making known his opinions about investment in the rail industry. You’ve clearly decided that it’s ok for him to do so but you’re not inclined to publish any challenge to this. Maybe I’m wrong and it is not improper for him to use his public office in this way. Is this because he is an elected official rather than a public servant? If this is the case, I’m still certain that the UK’s transport infrastructure would not have featured heavily in Ron’s ‘election address.’

  4. Well firstly we are talking about a figure around £42.5bn, as the cost of rolling stock can be borne entirely by the private sector. The cost per year is broadly similar to that currently being spent on Crossrail, which you don’t seem to have railed against in favour of policing, and what is HS2 but not investment in the railway network?

    HS2 is NOT an alternative to improving the rail network, indeed far will more is expected to be spent on it than the new line over the same period – it is about increasing capacity on the existing network and relieving the pressure so it isn’t so expensive and disruptive to maintain and when things do go wrong the impacts aren’t so severe.

    As for spending the money on policing, passenger numbers have *doubled* in the last 20 years, yet crime continues to fall by most measures. Both have defied the recession, rail usage continued to grow while there was no upsurge in criminal activity. If we are to invest in the future, it is quite clear where the money needs to go.

  5. HS2 is the new Millennium Dome – everyone is looking at it and saying that if the plan was scrapped, they could do something much better with the money. You want it for the Police, the NHS is underfunded, Social care needs more resources, we are losing our libraries, MPs want to pocket the lot in “expenses” etc. etc.

    The question is, can we afford to continually put off every infrastructure improvement just because it will take a long while and cost money? Would it be better to have a medieval road system just so the money could have been spent on something else? We might find out soon as we’ve been saving money on building power stations for many years.

    HS2 isn’t all about speed. If the people in charge of promoting it had bothered turning up for work in the last three years they might have explained that faster trains might not make a huge difference, but more capacity on the network will. Who knows, it might means that relatively short trips won’t take 5 hours because the existing network is bunged up or under repair.

    It will disrupt things while it is built – you can’t do large infrastructure without this as the current works in the bottom of Leamington prove. Presumably you’d knock those on the head to save hassle and money too? I’m sure people won’t mind not flushing their toilets so the Police budget can be increased a touch.

    At least HS2 mostly travels through fields to reduce the impact as it is built. Increasing capacity of the existing network significantly (not fiddling around the edges with slightly longer trains and signalling tweaks) means new lines. To add a line alongside the existing tracks south of Leamington would mean demolishing houses along one side of: Brunell Close, Box Close, Home Farm Crescent, Greville Smith Avenue, Hasely Close, Waveley Road, Althorpe Street and swathes of the bottom end of town. To the north, well the station area is pretty clear for historical reasons but you’ll quickly need to take a great chunk out of the college. This is just for one relatively small town, wait until you get to the centre of Birmingham.

    Doubtless the scheme could be delivered at lower cost, by getting the French or Chinese to build it. We seem to gold-plate every project massively pushing up the bill. They would probably do it faster too. Since many of our railways are owned by foreign investors, through a botched privatisation that has trebled the cost of running the network, it would seem appropriate to do this too.

    If the Police budget is so stretched, I think there are economies that can be made as this BBC story hints: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22624096 After all, with a miserably small turnout and few able to see the purpose of the role, Police Commissioners wouldn’t be an unpopular target for savings. People in glass houses…

  6. Chris Neville-Smith · · Reply

    Go on then. I wait with baited breath for you explanation for which journey you took and how you think construction of HS2 will disrupt your journey for 25 years.

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