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.