HS2 opposition not just Nimby

THE people of the Chilterns are unlikely rebels yet they are furious about the plan to build a high-speed rail line through their unspoilt bit of Britain, even though the scheme was devised by the Tory Party most of them support.

Last weekend more than 500 protesters gathered to galvanise opposition against the proposal, which goes out to consultation this week. That’s just the start. Celebrities are being rounded up, huge sums are  being raised and people up and down the line are voicing their anger.

Chiltern residents are right to oppose HS2, as it’s called, but they cannot win by relying on Nimby arguments alone.

I am a railway historian who enjoys nothing better than a long train journey, whether for business or pleasure, yet I am opposed to HS2 for many reasons, not least because there is neither an economic nor environmental case for it. I hope common sense will prevail and investment is put into our existing system instead.

Let’s look at the economic argument. This is based on a piece of mumbo-jumbo called a “business case” which actually falls apart as soon as it is examined. The Government says the £17billion cost of the line between London and Birmingham is worth it because it will attract more than twice that amount in  “benefits”.

What are these benefits? They are not for the most part fares income but rather the small savings made by people using the line. These account for nearly £20billion of the supposed £32billion benefits and are calculated on the basis that the value of these travellers’ time is equivalent to a salary of £70,000 a year. So every minute saved is worth about 50p or £30 an hour, which suggests the promoters think the line will be used mostly by fat-cats.

Such “savings” also assume that travel time is wasted. That may be the case in a car, where even making a hands-free call can be unwise, but a train with internet access and laptops can be a wonderful working environment.

The other big flaw in the “business case” is that it is based on ever-increasing demand for rail travel. Incredibly the Government is suggesting that for every two passengers on the West Coast mainline today there will be five in 2026 when the HS2 line opens. That’s an unprecedented level of growth.

Building the line will enable people to commute between England’s main two cities but is that to be encouraged? Far from benefiting the regions it may well concentrate yet more of the economy in the capital. Further, only the rich will be able to use the service regularly as there is bound to be a premium fare. It is amazing that at a time of such austerity the Government is prepared to spend £750million during this parliament on developing the plan for the line.

You could understand it if the idea was to save the planet but the scheme has no environmental benefit. Ministers have suggested that HS2 is an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow but this is bunkum. Even when the line is extended to Manchester and Leeds in the 2030s few airline passengers will be attracted.

High-speed trains are also less environmentally friendly than their slower counterparts. That is why the Government’s own report on HS2 found that the scheme is broadly carbon neutral, which means that billions are being spent on a project with no environmental benefit.

At the last election the main political parties supported the line and even environmental groups seemed  quietly supportive. Now that more details are emerging and the scale of the cost becoming known, cracks are appearing. Labour is already wavering and green groups are beginning to lobby against it.

The best argument for the line is that the West Coast mainline is filling up with passengers and there is a need for extra capacity. However there is a much cheaper alternative. For just over £2billion, spent on longer trains and track improvements, the capacity of that line could be boosted by almost as much as a new line, without damage to the Chilterns.

HS2 will neither take planes out of the sky nor make any significant reduction to traffic levels on the M1. If it did it would have my wholehearted support.

YES, other European countries have successful high-speed trains but the reality is that they are not needed here. There are crucial differences in geography and the pattern of towns and we already have excellent services between London and the towns that would be served by the line.

These arguments are beginning to be deployed effectively by the protesters. The consultation process is  bound to heat up the debate and as the case for the line founders on the twin rocks of environment and economics ministers may well decide it’s best to quietly postpone further spending on this overhyped  project.

They would be wise to do so as the protests against the selling-off of our forests showed that once Middle England gets angry it is a force to reckon with.

Read more: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/231438Why-super-fast-rail-service-has-to-be-derailed#ixzz1FAt0ohQn

  • David

    Paraphrasing a report on tonight’s BBC ‘East Midlands Today’, a branch line into Nottingham for high speed trains from an East Midlands hub station on HS2 is expected to be included in the forthcoming proposal for the north of Birmingham routes.

    Last time I saw HS2 discussed on regional TV, it was suggested that a single station for the East Midlands would be built somewhere in the Toton/M1 Junction 25 area; the initial report for the ‘Y’ network mentioned the area around Kegworth/Junction 24 as a possible location for an East Midlands station.

    Anyone heard anything to substantiate this report?

  • Anonymous

    That was it
    From previous work I had a 9 car Pendolino seating plan including numbrs of seats per carriage so I took the average 14.4 Kwh / km and divided by the number of seats. I then did the same again with an aditional two Coach E with another 152 std seats and got down to the 0.028 (decimal point correct this time !!!) figure

    Just to reduce future confusion because of the way comments are logged I’ll be elephant_never_forgets

  • Anonymous

    Minibus & Trailer as per the airport shuttles

  • Anonymous

    Well in the interim I’ve read a lot of all the doccuments HS2 have produced and there is a great deal of supposition and lack of reasoning in their arguments and a lot of the supporting information (such as the passenger demand forcasting handbook) still can’t be viewed

    A lot of the people being expected to offere proper informed opinion on the case for or against will just not have the time to read backwards and forwards between everything

  • Anonymous

    HS2 now appear to have revised the growth figue to approx double by 2043 which is a year on year growth of just over 2% and which appears to be in line with a 2007 NR Network RUS prediction

  • Gashead1883irene

    Spend the money on re opening the Waverley route in its’ entirety, the Somerset and Dorset, Matlock to Buxton and the Great Central, which was conceived as a direct high speed line to London. All trunk routes which should never have been closed.

  • Windsorian

    @ Elephant_never_forgets

    Richard, You make no mention in your last post of the increased weight and aerodynamic drag of an 11 car Pendolino; did you factor these into your calculation?

    Because of this doubt I would again reproduce the figures given at the Cambridge Energy Forum on 8th February 2007 :-

    Class 373 Eurostar 0.05kWh/seat-km
    Class 390 Pendolino 9-car 0.04kWh/seat-km
    Class 390 Pendolino 11-car 0.035kWh/seat-km

    Yes I fully agree the reduced aeordynamic drag and high density seating (Coach E), that the 11 car Pendolino has a saving in kWh/seat-km over the 9 car Pendolino.

    However I would point out that HS2 is being built to a full European guage capable of wider train bodies / superior seating arrangement and offering the later addition of duplex units; the introduction of TGV duplex units showed that energy usage in kWh/seat-km was similarly reduced.

  • Anonymous


    I had added in 22% to the energy use as that is approx 2/9 for the additional 2 coaches but it ought not to be all that figure as the aerodynamic drag will not go up by that much as the coaches are being added to the middle of the train

  • Windsorian


    Like you I have taken the 14.4kWh/km from Table 2 of the Railway Gazette (7.8.08) article and added on 22.22% to compensate for the Pendolino lenghthening from 9 car (existing) to 11 car; this gives me a projected figure for the 11 car of 17.6kWh/km.

    I then took the existing 9 car Pendolino seating plan for 447 passengers and added on the 2 new carriages holding an additional 152 seats; this gives me a seating capacity for the 11 car Pendolino of 599 passengers.

    I then divided the 17.6kWh/km by the new 599 passengers to give an passenger energy usage for the 11 car pendolino of 0.0315kWh/km.

    However this calculated figure makes no provision for additional aerodynamic drag, of which there must be some over and above the 9 car Pendolino – even with the 2 new carriages inserted mid-train.

    This makes me think that the real energy usage for the 11 car Pendolino will be closer to the 0.035kWh/km stated at the Cambridge Energy Forum than the 0.028kWh/km claimed by yourself.

    Or do you think I have my figures wrong ??