Anti-HS2 does not mean anti-rail

I don’t want to reopen all the wounds over the HS2 issue, but speaking at the StopH2 conference attended by 60-0 people in Warwickshire on saturday was a fascinating experience on Saturday. Sure, there were the Nimbys, interested only in their patch, and the eccentrics  like the first questioner after my speech who seemed to be espousing some sort of revolution and the lady who reckoned that it was all a plot to move Parliament to Warwickshire, but these were far outnumbered by people genuinely perplexed and confused as to why this project is deemed so important by the government at a time of austerity.

Most importantly, there were not anti-rail people. I sold and signed dozens of my books at the conference, and several people had their picture taken with me to send to friends. That’s a crucial point, and fits in with my view. To oppose HS2 is not to be anti-rail, as many people have suggested on this site.

There were, too, very informed contributions from the likes of John Whitelegg and other academics. The core message was that this is not a Green project, and never will be. There might be other justifications for it, but there is no way that this can be presented as a way of reducing carbon emissions, let alone improving the environment.

I do not want to reiterate many of the points made elsewhere on this site, but there was, too, another issue that I feel is greatly underplayed by supporters and that is the issue of subsidy not for the capital cost, but for the operation of the railway. It’s all very well saying that HS2 will clear lots of paths for other uses for the WCML but who is going to pay for them. Virgin is in receipt of massive subsidies, despite the increase in passenger numbers, and the cost of new rolling stock, track access, for services that are likely to be rather thinly used, given that the main Birmingham traffic will go on the new line, will ensure that ongoing subsidies will be needed. Moreover, as the HS2 report makes clear, there is little chance that operating HS2 will be a commercial proposition.

Therefore,  HS2 will require a permanent increase in the amount of money going into the railways, while at the moment government policy is moving in the other direction.

  • Chris

    Perhaps the HS2 wiki should have a link to this article? – “Broadly speaking these trains are no worse than the noise from a highway and generally more acceptable in that the noise is not continuous, whereas the noise from a highway is a constant buzz throughout the day and often throughout the night as well.

    “I’m not saying these trains are completely soundless and won’t cause some sort of disruption, but it can be managed and it can be managed rather easily.”

    Unfortunately based on prior experience any effort to suggest that HS2 may actually be a good idea gets deleted immediately – i daresay your new website Simon will be more of the same.

  • Simon


    Post the comment on the site. There’s a page for HS2 stuff.

  • Peter Hooper

    Word of warning about “Simon” and the site promoted in posts 98 & 100.

    Although the original web-page has been deleted, it was cached by google.-

    “This is the no2hs2 wiki” :-.
    “The purpose of this wiki is to outline, detail and discuss other ways of spending several billion pounds on the UK’s railways – as an alternative to building HS2”.

  • Simon

    @Peter Hooper:

    er, it still does say that – and I’m confused if you’re saying that it doesn’t anymore. It’s pretty much the point of the site – to explore other ways of spending money on the railways. As noted above (comment 100), there is a page on the site for pro-HS2 comments and discussion.

    The site name is no2hs2 – which describes the starting point. Over time, the hope is that reasoned contributions in favour of various projects (including HS2 itself) will build a useful resource.

    Thanks for looking, though.

  • Dave Holladay

    I went to a very interesting presentation at the IMechE Railway Division Glasgow section by Andrew McNaughton, and left with a point to ponder that seems to be escaping the debate at present. It should not do this as we have proof in the Class 395 operations in Kent that the sums that claim we can fill these fast trains do not match the reality of the delivered service. I think the presentation is going on the website soon.

    World-wide there is a claim that there is a market for some 8000 trains to run on high speed railways and these will generally fit a standard design template … but of course if we have to send the trains onto the current network in places the UK will need at most 50 ‘special’ versions – naturally! Most of these trains are likely to be built in China – the chinese have bought a Shinkansen, a Pendolino, and a TGV … and developed their own design currently being bashed out at a healthy rate for their new High Speed Network.

    These trains will probably be operable as full and half units but ideally as full units carrying a full load of 1100 passengers. Even allowing for further steepening of the exponential desire for a travel fix how on earth can such units deliver the frequency and convenience for the likely demand for rushing between a limited number of places, especially when th ‘Kent’ model shows what was noted before that adventure began – the core passenger audience will still have a faster journey between where they stay and where they want to be by using the old network even with its noted ability to fail spectacularly.

    I use the 440 seat Pendolinos and have even had a carriage to myself North of Carlisle and since trains no longer stop at Crewe we have lost a pile of commuters on the tea-time trains, so how we can fill bigger trains going faster but to fewer destinations (do that you actually have longer journey times to other places) presents an interesting challenge for a business case.

    Do check the Greengauge Current and proposed journey time claims, even on the short Edinburgh Glasgow trip – Current (GG21 claim – 50 min – timetable 47min – 1960’s with Swindon DMU on express service – 38 min)….Claimed High Speed benefit – 35 min, possibly to out of town stations, and anyone who has triad to drive in to Ediburgh or Glasgow during the working day knows that you can add 30 minutes for the 10 minute or faster trip made when the roads are quiet.

    I’d love to try the Paris-Manchester challenge – GG21 current seems to have between 60 and 80 minutes of slack – does it really take that long to get from St Pancras to Euston? I manage sub 4 minutes Euston to Kings Cross pretty consistently and Brill Street is even more direct than Euston Road. Paris-London = 2h 15 London-Manchester = > 2h 10 STP-EUS 5 min or 15 walking slow but steady is not 5 h 50…

  • Rhydgaled

    Maybe there is a need for a new line from London to Birmingham, I think I’d support that but not a HighSpeed one. HighSpeed 2, without adding many billions of £££s to the cost of it to power it by rewnewable engery, is just not green, and we must do everything we can to avoid doing anything that is not green.

  • Dan

    Is this more evidence that a further WCML upgrade might not be, err, the simplest, or best, solutions….

    “A decade after the west coast mainline upgrade entered the annals of engineering mishaps, another section of the London-to-Birmingham rail network is being hobbled by a multimillion pound revamp.

    A £250m upgrade of the Chiltern Line that should cut journey times between London and Birmingham by 20 minutes is beset by cost claims and poor planning”

  • John


    As an HS2 supporter – thank you for at least keeping me and those who support the scheme on our toes. It’s important that we ensure this debate is thorough and your comments have made me re-examine all the published evidence documentation to check my arguments are based on the correct evidence.

    However, I would be grateful if you could you please explain the point you raise in this post about operating costs. Where does your information that HS2 will make an operating loss comes from?

    I may well have misread the figures, but my reading of the economic case (page 12, is that the net operating costs over the assessed period will be £17Bn, whilst the revenues expected to be raised are £27.2 Bn.

    This represents an operating surplus in excess of £10Bn.

    Or have I missed something?

  • Well, two points. One is that this is dependent on the very high growth forecasts outlined in the paper, an issue well addressed above. But secondly, there is no time flow on this. They will not get these massive numbers straightaway, so there is bound to be a shortfall at the beginning especially as the costs of building it are likely to be higher than estimated. That is bound to require subsidy especially as we have a very high access charge regime and a Treasury thirsting to recoup any money. Look at the struggles and both overt and hidden subsidies on HS1.
    Moreover, we have been given no information on how this railway would be run – presumably it would be a franchise, which would mean that a lot of the extra profits =made if there were high numbers of users would go to the private sector.

  • Tim

    Christian, the rail demand growth forecast is based on actual growth experienced in the last 15 years – with long distance rail trips nearly doubling, and a 60% increase in all rail trips. There has, over the same period, been a slight reduction in car trips and significant reduction in air trips (including before the most recent recession). Indeed, rail demand has been growing since its lowest point (at least for a long time) around 1982/3. Do you acknowledge this?

    It is reasonable to expect rail use growth to continue given long term economic growth – there are currently difficulties in this respect, but they have been overcome in the past and will be again – and continuing road congestion, as well as quoting from the Command Paper published last March:

    “As the economy grows, the UK’s inter-city links can be expected to see a particularly rapid rise in demand for travel, fuelled by the increasing importance of high value and high-technology sectors such as business and financial services and the creative industries, which tend to cluster in major cities [which are proposed to be served by HS2].” – my square brackets.

  • David

    I’ve just seen it reoported that in today’s ‘Daily Telegraph’ there is a letter from a number of business leaders claiming that HS2 is a waste of money and should not go ahead; they call it a “vanity project”, and claim only a few will benefit from it even though it will cost every family in the UK £1000.

  • Daveatpalview

    As a supporter in general of HS2 i am concerned by your views. It seems to me that there is little alternative but to build this line.Forget about less cars or planes, it is more to do with increasing scarce capacity on the existing rail routes.We have just had a major upgrade of the WCML at great expense and massive disruption yet in a few years it will be full again. The MML has little capacity and the same can be said of the ECML.It seems to me that HS2 is necessary simply to provide some extra capacity. A new line would be built far quicker and with less disruption than yet more upgrades to existing routes.You appear to advocate more upgrades to existing routes but i have no doubt that this will cause far more disruption,costs spiralling,overuns etc.

  • Percy

    Boris came out this weekend against HS2 unless there are billions more in civil engineering cost modifications comitted to the project at the London end. Is this pronouncement by BJ the political begining of the end for HS2, the snowball that turns into a massive NO to HS2 avalanche wiping out the Yes People?  Personally I think its less likely now than it was on Friday that the UK will see a new high speed line to the North. What do you think everyone?

  • Anonymous

    Well, Boris has a kind of special licence to oppose Tory policy from within. I think he is testing the ground here for the Tories, a kind of lightning rod. It does show that there is a sizeable part of the Tory party that is worried about the proposal. 

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  • munroda

    Hi Christian, I live in Hillingdon and am concerned about the published plans for HS2. I do have some objections to the proposals that would seem NOT to have been covered by any of the “anti” camp. Posting them here would give access to the objections by such people as Hillingdon Against HS2 and Hillingdon Council under Puddifoot. I do not intend to give any assistance to Puddifoot at all ever, so how do I get them bounced off someone like yourself?

  • Anonymous

    email me and iwill look at them

  • Peter Jarai

    hi its peter jarai
    Why not Look at the rejected proposed HS2 routes The one that is the best is via stafford then it goes over the M6 two Times over the A449 And M54 and  this then joins Bilbrook railway station then from hare it goes over the A41 Then the A454 Thare wood be a new railway station at Perton then it wood carry on over the A458 then go towards the M5 then the M42 Then  the M40 Then it wood link in to  Warwick parkway station and the rest is already in use with chiltern railways
    this wood cost less to build it wood  great .
    from peter jarai 

  • terry porter

    Living in the west of the west midlands I see plenty of anti slogans to HS2. what got me thinking was a conversation at st. pancras international last week when a gent who had arrived from Brussels asked me were he could get a train to Sheffield I pointed him in the direction of East Midlands trains he then said would the train go on to manchester I said no but you can change at Sheffield .this set me thinking why not upgrade the Midland Mainline which is after all 3/4 tracks as far as Leicester and probably could be upgraded  then  on to Sheffield then sweep across the pennines through a reopened Woodhead Tunnel to Manchester and in the process providing an extra transpennine route. As regards Birmingham could it not branch off left somewhere between london and Leicester? and avoid the nimbys of the chilterns etc.Yours Terry Porter (Malvern)  

  • Percy

    I think it ( HS2 ) is in serious trouble, the pendulum is swinging towards the NO camp, diverse, unconnected events and circumstances have come together over the last couple of months and look set to scupper it. But then again its not over until the fat lady sings.

  • HS2 a herpes virus that can cause genital herpes. Also in your opinion where can I find the most accurate up-to-date and reliable information on HS2?

  • Jonny Haw

    I worked out the other day that, for the £32.7billion being spent on HS2, EVERY SINGLE CITY IN THE UK could have a  tram system built (based on an average cost of £10m per mile for light rail)!  While the rail nerd in my is a bit excited at the prospect of high speed rail, I can’t help think that the money could achieve more elsewhere….