Adonis is an object lesson of how to get things done

It was always going to be a momentous year. But 2009 has exceeded expectations with far reaching changes that for the most part a new government is going to find hard to reverse. Just listing all the events in the past year would take up much of this column, so I’ll just analyse the implications of a few of them.

Crucial to many of these developments has been one man, the transport secretary  Lord Adonis who has done more in a year in the job than Alistair Darling did in four.  The headline setter has been the reversal of the government’s position on high speed rail instigated by Adonis. After commitments to a north south high speed line had been made by the Tories and the LibDems, Labour looked out on a limb but Adonis has done more than merely promising a study. He instigated one very quickly, creating HS2 and showed real commitment to the plan, with a report on the possible route and funding due to be published within the next few weeks.

 Actually, I remain of the view that the UK has missed the boat in terms of building the line, as broader issues such as the price of oil, climate change and the need to reduce mobility rather than encourage it, as well as practical considerations such as finding a suitable route and the cost at a time of economic constraint, mean that it will never happen.

Therefore another U turn by the government, the decision to electrify a section of the Great Western line is actually a more important development since, unlike the high speed line,  it will undoubtedly happen. The reluctance of the Department to endorse electrification in its 30 year strategy published in 2007 always looked like a severe case of myopia given that the British rail network has a far smaller proportion of electrified lines than our European counterparts. Electrifying one of the two remaining diesel main lines out of London was, therefore, in many senses a no-brainer but again it took a transport minister with a thorough knowledge of the railways to work out a way of doing it relatively cheaply by instigating a complex cascade of rolling stock that saved having to introduce a new fleet of commuter trains for the Great Western network.

The other headline stealing event of the year was, of course, the much predicted collapse of a franchise as a result of the recession. It was no surprise that it was National Express East Coast that proved to be the victim since it was the most vulnerable, unproteted by the cap and collar arrangements that has prevented a series of other franchises from collapsing.  Again, though, there have been surprises. The Department stuck to its guns in not renegotiating the franchise, unlike both the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising – OPRAF – and the Strategic Rail Authority which could always be tapped for a bit of extra cash by struggling operators in order to prop up the franchising system.

However the Department has found it rather more difficult to implement the cross-default arrangements and remove the its other two franchses from National Express. It was, indeed, strange that National Express had been allowed to proctect itself against this eventuality by creating a separate subsidiary for the East Coast franchise. Surely such a crude device must have been spotted by the Department before it signed the deal and should have made civil servants ask their lawyers whether it meant that National Express was protected from cross default?

The other interesting aspect of the takeover of East Coast by the government is the seriousness with which the Department has gone about running the franchise. Not only has it appointed a high profile and respected train operator, Elaine Holt, to run the franchise, but having a press launch and creating a new brand with great haste suggests that Adonis wants to make an impact in running the franchise. Of course he maintains the line that it is impossible for the government to retain the franchise beyond the two year time frame he has imposed and says he has no desire to do so, but there was a distinct feeling on the inaugural train that Adonis was rather enjoying running trains.  I am still trying to get to the bottom of the assertion that franchising is obligatory, which seems to have no legal basis but at the time my legal friends are still on the case.  

Another change that may prove to be more significant in the long run than the other more widely publicised events was the announcement that a branch line would be turned over the the local county council and run as a tram service. The line between Watford and St Albans, a fortunate survivor of the Beeching cuts, will now be operated as a tram service – light rail in the rather irritating modern parlance – enabling a cheaper and more frequent service. Again, it requred knowledge on the part of the minister to realise that second hand high floor trams would be widely available as many towns in Germany are transferring to low floor stock,  and therefore they would be cheap but be suitable for a line that has platforms.  This is an example that could be widely followed, a template for running other branch lines in a cheaper way while providing a better service.

Probably the most unexpected aspect of the year has been the pace of change. Adonis has shown that with energy and commitment,  a knowledgeable minister can get the wheels of government turning far faster than normal. The speed with which, for example, he changed policy on electrification and the high speed line, instigated and acted on the stations review or, to give a minor example, got bike parking increased at main line stations in London, shows that the Yes, Minister type of resistance from civil servants can be overcome. He has created a fantastic momentum for investment and change in the rail industry. It is a great shame that he is unlikely to be in post this time next year, but any incoming transport secretary should learn from the way he managed to kick start a normally slothful government department into action.  However, he or she will have their work cut out to make 2010 anything like as momentous as 2009.

  • David

    With regard to High Speed 2, BBC West Midlands news carried an “exclusive” on 3 December 2009 claiming that there would be two new stations in Birmingham, one serving the city centre on the eastern fringe, and another parkway type one in the suburbs (possibly close to or at Birmingham International); moreover, the outline plan shown on the programme included a line peeling off towards the north east.

    On the same day, both the Derby and Nottingham local papers carried stories about High Speed 2 passing through the East Midlands; they claimed Sir David Rowlands had said that each of the region’s three cities could not support a station in their own right, but there would be sufficient demand for a single station for the area (as there are about 1m people living in the Derby/Nottingham conurbation, just how many people do you need for a high speed station?)

    Interesting that all reports seem to support the story broke in ‘Rail’ some time ago and subsequently rubbished by High Speed 2’s press release!

  • Paul Holt

    Regarding the penultimate paragraph about branch line trams, there can also be a programme to reinstate many of the missing links created by Beeching, on the principle that it doesn’t matter what (steam, electric, diesel) runs on the rails; where there are no rails, there is no railway.

  • Peter Davidson

    Can I just say that Mr. Wolmar’s hard bitten, cynical and somewhat dismissive attitude towards HS2’s prospects is doing the peripheral UK Regions no favours whatsoever?

    I don’t suppose those residing within the London/SE nexus of political power are too fussed about prioritising the necessary scarce (and becoming scarcer) public resources over the coming decades but maybe Mr. Wolmar and others might like to step back and recall where the £800 million, to refurbish St. Pancras as the new terminus, plus £5.5 billion required to underwrite (and thus guarantee construction) HS1 came from?

    My understanding was that the UK taxpayer footed the bill in both instances. That’s UK taxpayer as in the whole country, peripheries included? One is also tempted to ask where the direct provincial routes to Paris and Brussels are in 2009, you remember, the same routes mandated under the original terms of the Channel Tunnel Treaty but cynically reneged upon by the eventual winner of the franchise to run rail services through the tunnel between London and mainland Europe; London & Continental.

    This entire debacle is symptomatic of the entrenched centralising mindset routinely on display amongst Ministers and their Civil Servant advisors inhabiting the Westminster/Whitehall bubble of unreality. Mr. Wolmar and others amongst that clique of movers and shakers should get out more. There is civilisation and life beyond the confines of the M25 corridor and leafy suburbs of Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

    This stark contrast, between those fortunate few in the UK who have to date benefited from the High Speed Rail (HSR) revolution and the majority of UK residents (taxpayers remember?) who remain excluded from the process, has been brought into sharp relief by the recent Eurostar campaign extolling the virtues of short railborne breaks to Paris, Lille, Brussels or wherever, simply “because it’s Saturday” – £59 return seems like a good deal for an impromptu visit to Galleries Lafayette for some much needed retail therapy but if there is no direct service to take advantage, such siren calls ring rather hollow?

    Events in France, where extension of the TGV network effectively put both Air Inter and Air Littoral out of business, and Spain where AVE is rapidly repeating the same exercise, prove the commercial case for HSR. Simply claiming that governments should be trying to reduce rather than encourage mobility smacks of an elitist attitude that beggars belief. How dare Mr. Wolmar or any other influential mover and shaker in the transport sector calmly inform me that it’s OK for my tax revenues to subsidise HSR for them, yet I’m simply excluded from the deal because extending the HSR network north of Watford Gap is going to cost money and put a rail line across the Chiltern countryside – my heart bleeds for them!

    The answer is very clear – if only for the sake of social cohesion across the UK – get HS2 on the drawing board PDQ, followed by HS3, 4 and 5. Otherwise I can envisage a burgeoning secession movement springing up in the English Peripheries – how long before we hear the cry “Home rule for Yorkshire, Lancastria, Northhumbria”?

  • RapidAssistant

    Peter, I can see what you are saying, but given that HS1 has taken 30 odd years from conception to finally being built, I’m not holding out for HS2 to happen before I reach retirement age.

    And during HS1’s troubled gestation we weren’t under a trillion pounds worth of debt thanks to our blessed bankers’ antics either.

    But I’l say again building a high speed network in France was relatively easy for two reasons:

    1. First of all they have a vertically integrated, state owned railway so things are easier to implement with a lot less conflicts of interest and red tape. Here TOCs can’t even agree on what to charge for a cup of coffee. Personally I think the current farcical structure will self destruct eventually and we’ll go back to a BR type nationalised railway, but not for another 15-20 years given the likelihood of a Tory government for the next two parliamentary terms. A lot more NXEC’s will have to happen before polticians finally eat humble pie and accept the current model is a failure.

    2. Topologically, with the Alps and Pyrnees aside, France is a largely flat country with its major population centres quite well spread out. So it is quite easy to build long, straight railway lines without all that much in the way of obstacles. In the UK already the two “easy” routes are already taken by the ECML and WCML, and there is very little space in our towns and cities to put in all the extra infrastructure.

    So yes, it is a divisive issue, but not one which I see a quick resolution any time soon.

  • I agree with the need for HS2 and its children, though I’d prefer it if we took the opportunity to build new infrastructure for local and suburban services too. (I.e. 4-track where possible to provide 140 mph. commuter trains serving the conurbations around Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, etc.)

    This would free up a _lot_ more capacity on the classic lines for rail-freight. And _that_ needs to be a major priority for the UK. Shifting more freight onto rail will massively reduce our country’s reliance on road haulage. We can then justify taxing unnecessary road freight and reduce congestion on our roads too, cutting maintenance costs and relieving the pressure to widen existing roads and build new bypasses.

    You’ll note my holistic approach to transport planning here. The money saved on new / improved roads can be ploughed back into other, less socially abrasive, forms of transport.


    Re. your second point.

    One word: Switzerland. This country is building not one, but two Base Tunnels under the Alps to link the French and German HSR networks with Italy’s. (At a total projected cost of $13bn., I might add.)

    If you read up on this project, you’ll see a major emphasis on removing freight from the Swiss road network, rather than the UK’s incessant focus on passengers. Freight is a major issue in the UK too, and it’s high time we started addressing it. As freight tends to be less time-sensitive than passenger transport, it makes sense to get as much of it onto our classic lines as possible, while building a new, fresh, spangly rail network for passengers.

    We have a unique opportunity here to effectively build new trunk rail infrastructure better suited to the 21st Century. We can undo the damage caused by the mistakes our Victorian ancestors made—tiny loading gauges; slow, winding routes; poorly-sited stations, etc., and create a more sensible balance between road, rail and air.

    (Not that I think any of the above will actually happen, but I can dream…)

  • Peter Davidson


    My rant (I know that’s how it will be perceived in some quarters) was based on a fundamental tenet of any decent Nation State based society – equitable distribution of finite resources. We all (UK taxpayers in this instance) pay into a communal financial resource and we should all receive back a fair distribution of the public goods & services funded by this central pot.

    Clearly when it comes to HSR, the UK’s peripheries have been screwed over big time. Of course the picture is not as simple as I have painted; comparison between the UK and our near European neighbours must be taken into account because HSR only works, financially and logistically, on a pan-European scale. However, adding this European perspective to the equation doesn’t do the UK any favours because UK transport strategy signally failed to appreciate the value of HSR – the UK was more than a decade late off the starting block?

    The trillion pounds of debt issue shouldn’t be a consideration either – where are the vast bulk of jobs and resources associated with the financial industry, errr……..London by any chance? One can legitimately ask why the UK taxpayer en-masse has to stump up (for the next decade or so) to bail out a failed business model if once again the economic benefits flowing from this publicly funded bail out accrue primarily to a relatively small geo-political enclave but that’s another issue for discussion elsewhere.

    From a moral standpoint, there is no compelling argument against the roll out of HSR across the UK – citizens from all UK regions should benefit from access to fast, sustainable 21st century transport. We routinely condemn the post code lottery nature of public service provision in other fields; healthcare, social care, education etc. and the exact same principle applies equally to transport.

    I agree that rail hubs need to be sited at points maximising their commercial efficacy but a new HS2 with stations located at Birmingham International (Airport & NEC) and city centre (revamped New Street?) for West Midlands plus Manchester International (Airport) and city centre (Piccadilly?) for NW.England, would boast catchment zones exceeding 7 million (within a 1 hour radius) inhabitants. On a cost pro-rata basis it can be argued that HS2 in this form would represent better value for (public) money than HS1 – all it requires is the political willpower to make it happen.

    @Sean Baggaley

    You seem to be arguing for new, rather than refurbished, rail infrastructure and that principle is an integral element underpinning the logic of an expanding HSR UK network, . I’m not sure about the precise costs involved but is the difference between constructing a line capable of 230km/h against those for true HSR – 400km/h – really that great? There won’t be any difference in the planning processes required for either of these options, so no quicker in terms of construction. Whichever option you go for you wouldn’t see trains running on the new track before 2020-25 at least. Given this long-term timescale why not go the whole hog and future proof any new infrastructure and buck the well established UK reputation for short-termism – your idea has in-built obsolescence writ large all over it?

    Finally is there any site disseminating background information about the long anticipated HS2 report?

  • Dan

    Well Peter it was a bit of a rant, but I’m with you on this, although I also understand the point of view that Christian and others have articulated that the money might be better spent on other improvements (but my point is that even if that were the case it probably wouldn’t be – because that is not how political decisions to spend money are made – so you might as well have HS2/3 etc).

    BUT – it should not really be a case of either / or. What we are talking about is similar to the equivalent of building a Motorway network. An interesting Radio 4 prog recently marking the 50th anniversary of M1 opening made the point that at the time many people argued against M-Ways and in favour of a programme of by-passes. But the reality is that we had M ways AND by passes in the end.

    We also clearly need investment at a regional level that links between regions – not just to / from London. Really serious inter and intra regional investment is probably the only thing that could create regions that could challenge the over dominance of the London – SE ‘super region’ and rebalance the economic geography of at least England, if not the UK.

    Some of our cross regional rail links are simply appalling. Some examples:

    Liverpool – Manchester – Sheffield – Nottingham – Norwich as a relatively slow 2 car DMU with only a catering trolley for part of the route is shocking. Is this really the aspiration from transport planning across these major communities as outlined by DfT?

    West Mids to East Mids links: is it really the summit of our aspirations that the link between Birmingham and Nottingham requires every train to involve a time consuming reversal in Derby making the rail link utterly uncompetitive time wise with the road? And this when the freight diversion line to Burton could probably permit the end to end journey time to be cut by may be 20 minutes. Talk about getting a quick win! Is there really seen to be no demand for at least 1 train an hour to do that journey without going via Derby?

    This is before we get onto the state of some of the regional links that radiate out of those cities. Where we have a profusion of diesel operated trains I suspect journey times are little altered since the transitions from steam to diesel in the 1950s, and the only other changes passengers would notice will have been the gradual downgrading of station facilities etc in successive attempts to save money. Meanwhile in that same 50 year period every town in those areas will have seen road based investment of some significance (dual carriage ways, widenings, ring roads, by passes etc) I’m sure.

    However, if I thought that NOT building HS2 would get any of those things solved, I’d be more sympathetic to the argument against building it, but the fact is it won’t.

  • Lynne

    If you want some money for this project why don’t you ask the UK government to give you what they propose to spend on the A5wtc in Tyrone. It may go some way towards the cost. They are talking about £850million – some of this is supposed to come from the Irish government but I don’t think they have any money. We don’t need another road as we already have one that is adequate. Perhaps you could ask why the UK government is going to spend this money in Northern Ireland which has a population of 1.7million who mostly live in the east not the west of the province. Lord Adonis already said that new road building is against govenment policy because it’s unsustainable – so why do it in Tyrone?

  • Peter Davidson


    When does something qualify as a rant – when you point out some blindingly obvious facts, which those you are berating understand only too well but simply ignore, because it suits their purpose?

    For me, the building/financing of HS1 and HSR UK government strategy in general symbolises many of the perennial and fundamental flaws within the British State mechanism

    First of all it was planned and built over ten years late, which illustrates the make do and mend short-termist approach pervading all major infrastructure programmes. If you need another golden example compare UK Airtransport strategy with that of Hong Kong. Faced with similar long term pressures upon an ageing, wrongly located (enveloped by congested urban sprawl) major hub the solutions could not be starker – however that’s another story.

    With regard to HS1, successive UK governments were dragged kicking and screaming, over a ten year period towards the conclusion every rational person knew was the correct solution from the outset, ie. start building HSR links now because by the time they’re constructed we’ll need them – now the UK is ten years behind, frantically trying to catch up (again!)

    When the Channel link opened in 1994, the TGV Nord line was ready and waiting to take the first Eurostar. I remember travelling from Waterloo to Brussels in 1999. We had lunch whilst the train rattled along through the Kent countryside averaging 120km/h, once through the tunnel the driver put his/her foot down and we were travelling at 300km/h in a matter of minutes – talk about slow lane Britain!

    Secondly the Channel link was trumpeted (for electoral/political gain?) as a project for the entire UK. Specific pledges were made about how the rest of the UK’s rail infrastructure would be enabled to tap into the advantages of this wonderful new advance in transport technology (Stratford junction and spur from HS1?). I recall being accosted in Manchester Piccadilly Station by two eager young Eurostar marketeers sometime around the mid to late nineties, bigging up the features of the soon to arrive (hah hah hah!) direct provincial Eurostar services from places like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow, to Paris and Brussels.

    Sure enough, over the next couple of years, minor changes to certain UK stations (Eurostar signs and small lounge/ticketing areas?), and less obvious engineering works at specific junctions, appeared to enable these services to begin. The biggest manifestation of this in Manchester was the appearance of a sign at the Longsight Maintenance Depot (south of Piccadilly) displaying the bold proclamation “Eurostar habite ici” and I was reliably informed that a number of train sets were procured, drivers recruited and trained, to facilitate this planned service expansion – all in the name of an equitable homogeneous society of course. Then it all went quiet and later it transpired that L&C (Eurostar’s parent) had reneged on the project, mandated (I was told) under the original terms of the Channel Tunnel Treaty no less!

    Later it transpired that L&C had demanded a huge subsidy to run said provincial services (the public was by then in thrall to the new concept of low cost short haul aviation) and the then Transport Secretary (John Prescott) had bottled out rather than call L&C’s bluff, ie. by rescinding their franchise to run Eurostars to/from London – Paris/Brussels, even though he had at least two other potential suitors waiting in the wings offering to take the whole thing (provincial services included) over; namely Virgin and SNCF.

    The train sets were mothballed (eventually flogged off at bargain prices?), the trained up drivers and staff made redundant. It came out later that L&C had received public subsidy (our taxes again!) to fund the entire programme, so they were never going to be out of pocket until the service actually began – one wonders what commercial model they were operating under – I always thought business was about taking risks for potential reward but obviously, when it comes to rail services a different rationale applies? The “Eurostar habite ici” sign was eventually taken down (after part of it fell off?) eighteen months ago!

    To top it all, construction of HS1 finally gets underway at huge public expense (to underwrite the whole damn thing) and those in the peripheries then find out that all plans to link the new rail line into the classic network (via Stratford) has been abandoned. In November 2007 St Pancras is showcased as a new wonder of the rail transport world (when in fact it was over 13 years late!) refurbished at our collective expense again!

    The latest attempt to rub salt in the wound is Eurostar’s breezy advertising campaign extolling the virtues of cut price (£59 return) impromptu shopping trips to Brussels, Lille of Paris, “just because it’s Saturday” How I wish I could just pop down to my nearest Eurostar station, which would have been Manchester Airport (5km distant) if they’d got their planning right 10 – 15 years ago?) to board a High Speed Service direct to Paris et al, just because it’s Saturday!

    If this all sounds like a bitter diatribe, that’s because it is but that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s also entirely justified.

    Perhaps you’ll understand now why negative rumour mongering along the lines of “HS2 may never happen” is liable to inspire fighting talk where I come from?

  • RapidAssistant

    Perhaps, deep deep down we are all saying to ourselves that High Speed rail will never happen because we hope that maybe once we’ll be wrong and it actually will. The story of the British railway system has been 180 years of profit before planning, missed opportunities and political interference leading to one momentous cock-up after another. Time will tell.

  • Dan

    Peter – rant: – largely a question of tone I suspect – which on this site always seems to be very civil (with the noted exception of some retired BT Police officers, some haulage ‘enthusiasts’ and a group of 6th formers from north London – see other posts)

    I’m with you on your analysis though!

  • Anoop

    HS2 should be built in a way that provides diversionary routes for other mainlines, thus also facilitating track closures for maintenance work.

    London – Manchester already has 3 trains an hour with a journey time of 2 hours, so I do not think it is desperate need of speeding up.

    Birmingham and London are so huge that any reduction in city to city journey time will be outweighed by further travelling to reach one’s destination within the city, so a wider range of alternative departure points might be more useful than a single high-speed link.

    Birmingham International is suitable to become a high speed hub because of its central geographical location, airport, existing rail links and availability of land.

    HS2 should aim to:
    1. Reduce journey times to Scotland
    2. Reduce Cross-Country journey times
    3. Provide a diversionary route for other main lines
    4. Serve Heathrow Airport (and preferably Birmingham International also) to reduce the need for domestic flights
    5. Reduce congestion on the East Coast Mainline and Birmingham New Street
    6. Provide maximum benefit for a minimum length of new track built

    A possible plan which would achieve these aims:
    1. Birmingham International to Central London with a branch to Heathrow Terminal 5 (Heathrow trains can continue to London via the Great Western Main Line, replacing the Heathrow Express service)
    2. Birmingham International to Newcastle (possibly via Leeds, Sheffield and Derby) – it would facilitate journeys between these provincial cities
    3. Newcastle to Edinburgh
    4. Edinburgh to Glasgow
    5. Birmingham International to Bristol (to allow reconfiguration of Cross-Country services, with faster trains between the South West and the North, and reduced congestion at New Street)

    Some people have argued for a city centre station in Birmingham and possibly a high speed tunnel under the city. I think the money would benefit more people if it were spent on a metro for Birmingham rather than an expensive extension of the high speed line into the city.

  • Peter Davidson


    You seem to have forgotten the brief of HS2, which is to provide a report outlining the precise route for any HSR line between London and the Midlands plus a reasonably accurate indication of the potential route north of Birmingham up to Scotland. In other words HS2 is a complete package, north to south (as it should be), not simply a truncated spur line up to the Midlands. Any proposed plan therefore must include a through route so a city centre station in Birmingham is absolutely mandatory

    I think those interested in this issue are united in our eager anticipation of the forthcoming HS2 report – some it would seem cannot wait and have submitted a FOI request for detailed insight into the report’s findings. Somewhat predictably this has been rejected.

    According to my info the report is now complete and sitting on the desk of Lord Adonis (more likely he is reading it right now during the Xmas/New Year shutdown period) – it will certainly give us a valuable insight into the most likely route any HSR line between London and Scotland will take. The public will not be allowed access to the information until March at least, probably more like April – it will be interesting to see the rumours begin to spread around that time as publication becomes imminent.

    My guess, based on the scant nuggets of information available to date is that there will be two stops in the West Midlands, one at Birmingham International and the other in the City Centre (almost certainly at New Street) though this will be a subterranean station linked to the existing surface based infrastructure.

    I also predict replication of this concept in Manchester with a deeply tunnelled route under Manchester Airport allowing a link to the existing surface based station at MIA, from whence the proposed route will take a largely underground pathway towards the city centre. Not quite sure how they will accommodate the route through the urban metropolis although I wouldn’t be surprised to see a largely tunnelled option with lift and escalator links to existing surface bound stations. I realise that the route north of Birmingham will only be an outline at this stage. No doubt the route (both definite and proposed) will be subject to intense lobbying from two major schools of thought. Firstly the Nimby element determined to redirect the route anywhere but near them and those groups amongst commercial and political circles who want the line and more specifically a station on the planned route in close proximity.

    Experience in London and in other major European cities has demonstrated that HSR and inner city centre urban sprawl do not sit easily side by side well so tunnelling seems the best option despite the obvious cost implications?

  • nick sloan

    Contrary to some comments on this and other blogs, high speed rail (HSR) services are profitable. Rail has the dominant market share air on key routes from Paris such as Brussels (flights no longer available) and to London (HSR 85% share) and will make great inroads on the Amsterdam route now that HSL Zuid is now open. It is the planes that are empty on these routes not the trains. There is no rational reason why the same will not hold for Birmingham and points North !!

    HSR is good for the environment as it produces less pollutants per passenger but we must ensure that the new line is as inobtrusive as possible.

    HSR is good for the economy as billions of pounds are lost due to congestion. The reason that a completion date of 2025 is mooted is that the existing railway and motorways will be approaching gridlock by then. HSR is as much about increasing capacity as it is about speed. HSR will allow the exisitng lines to carry more freight and provide more services by some towns left out at the moment ie certain places south of Manchester ! Also those who live in or near London will be nearly as shocked to learn that not everyone from the north wants to go to London as they are to dicover that the country actually stretches beyond Watford !

    We have here a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a huge investment for the future of the country which all major parties and business are in agreement with. How often does this happen ? Does it not make even the cynics realise that there must be something in it ?

    We have enough negativity in this country lets be positive. The thing that confuses me the most is that every time we talk about hsr the same comments are made every time yet these have already been disproven !!!

    Why cant we just treat issues on their own merits and not just always assume that everything will go wrong ! If Dickens were writing a novel now it would be called Low Expectations !

    It is vital that all members of the rail industry and associated media give their support to this project and that incleds Mr Wolmar !

  • Peter Davidson

    Nick – you might like to pop over to Comment is Free (Guardian Newspaper Site) and see the response to an editorial article on the prospects for High Speed Rail (HSR).

    Seems as though there is still a significant degree of public ignorance (simply conveying the merits of increased capacity is like banging your head on a brick wall) and antipathy towards the project?

    Even when you actually invoke the concept of market forces, the naysayers simply turn that idea on its head and use it as an argument against HS2!

    Like you I am convinced of about the need for HSR roll out across the rest of the UK, and its competitive attributes, starting with HS2, routed initially to Birmingham but very quickly afterwards on to the North West and Scotland. If my hunch is right and Manchester International Airport does become a planned station on the route I aim to make a journey from that station to the Cote D’Azur sometime around 2025 (I’ll be retired by then so some winter sunshine will suit very nicely).

    Let’s just say I am eagerly anticipating publication of the HS2 report now sitting on the desk of Lord Adonis

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