HS2 – It’s not about speed, it’s about capacity

Intermodal freight on the West Coast Main Line

Good piece in the New Statesman by former Labour transport minister Andrew Adonis on why it would be an act of national self-mutilation to cancel HS2.

For the key justification is not speed but capacity. There will be an acute shortage of transport capacity from the 2020s to convey freight, commuters and other passengers into and between the major conurbations of London, the West Midlands, the East Midlands and South and West Yorkshire. Since there is no viable plan, let alone political will, to build new motorways between these places, or to dramatically increase air traffic between them, this additional capacity must largely be met by rail or Britain will grind to a halt. Rail is, in any case, the most efficient and green mode of transport for mass passenger and freight movements.

He goes on to explain how cancelling HS2 would be as short sighted as the 1970s cancellation of the Channel Tunnel (eventually revived two decades later) and the third London airport at Maplin Sands. The one “big project” that the 1970s Labour government didn’t cancel was the one that did turn into a massive white elephant: Concorde. Britain should not make the same mistake again.

Debates about the benefits of faster journey times to Birmingham, and whether or not business travellers work productively on trains, are beside the point. If the additional capacity is required, it ought to be provided in the most cost-effective manner.

This is something I’ve not seen a single opponent of HS2 address. Yes, there are still points up for debate over the route, such as why it doesn’t join up with HS1.

And like Adonis, I would dismiss that recent anti-HS2 report from the Institute of Economic Affairs. The IEA is a right-wing think tank that has long been anti-rail and pro-road; for them, the private car symbolises personal freedom and individual prosperity, while any form of public transport represents socialistic collectivism. Don’t forget they’re connected with the late Alfred Sherman, the ideological moonbat who wanted to pave over the entire railway network to convert them into roads. They are simply not to be trusted on this issue.

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9 Responses to HS2 – It’s not about speed, it’s about capacity

  1. As the man implies, HS2 is essential for the continued movement of stuff around the country. We need to be thinking 10-20 years ahead. Tony Blair’s indecision on Nuclear Power will result in power cuts in 5 years time. Indecision on HS2 now could result in longer delays on the M25 and M5/6/42 in 10 years time. Politicians shouldn’t be thinking about next months poll surveys, but the future of our great country. Unfortunately, the X-Factor / Big Brother generation can only think about who is going to be a sucess in 1-3 months time. I despair about what our country has become…

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Don’t get me started on nuclear power and the irrational scaremongering about it…

  3. The capacity of the existing national railway network could be increased by developing a new form of traction and braking that did not rely on friction between the wheels and track.
    For an example of how this could be done visit http://www.cheshire-innovation.com/Transport%20internet.htm
    Building HS2 will not create any exportable manufacturing opportunities, but developing a new form of braking could make us world leaders in train building.

  4. Nigel Spate says:

    The whole approach to the future of the UK’s railways has little or no joined up thinking. The WCML is stilly not a 140 mph railway and with overhead catenary that has failures nearly every week especially in the London area.

    The electrification of the network forming an electric freight spine great idea with
    the rail freight company’s investing more money lots of new, secondhand or refurbishing long stored diesel locomotives with no new electric locomotives in sight.

    The inIEPt high spend train complete with on board diesel engine that if reports are correct is always running even under the wires. The leasing charges for this wonderful o
    train are far higher than the current trains so more eye watering fare rises on the way on what is Europe if not the worlds most expensive railway system.

    As for HS2 formally known as the Great Central closed and ripped up by the Marples Beeching consortium under a Tory Government in the 1960′s and now being rebuilt at vast expense both to the environment and the Treasury on a privitised railway system! What will this line achieve? I am convinced just more people from the north of England commuting to London not the other way round!

    We have the irony of the German Government effectively running many rail and bus services in the UK under their DB Schenker trading me and reaping the subsidies and profits or use elsewhere! If the German Government thinks it is worth running our railways why doesn’t ours?

    To Tim Hall’s point about nuclear power one word Fukushima!

  5. I broadly agree with the arguments for HS2, there’s no denying the benefits it could bring. However I think the addition of HS2 to the rail network is more “a useful thing to have” rather than “essential”. The money that’s been earmarked for HS2 should be going towards capacity enhancement and line re-openings across the network. HS2′s benefits are sited on a national and international level economically. To build up the economy though, it has to start on a local and regional basis and railways have always proved how valuable they can be in helping economic prospects at that level. There’s many examples, here’s a couple; Capacity at Leeds city station needs to be greater to cope with extra demand for local and regional services. The argument is HS2 can take over express services from the East Coast main line, freeing up capacity there – but I can’t see how. Trains will have to run into Leeds city in order for people to change to local destinations. If it doesn’t integrate with the classic lines, it loses its’ purpose; it has to interconnect. HS2 only solves part of the problem, it will free up capacity on the main line itself but rail hub’s like Leeds won’t benefit. The station and the lines going into it need to be expanded, more than it needs HS2 right now.
    Proposed line re-openings such as Colne – Skipton, have been widely touted as the key to reversing the fortunes of the East Lancashire mill towns and creating extra line capacity, one of the proposals being considered is to not only reopen the colne -skipton section but also reinstate the double track from Colne – Gannow Junction, near Burnley. It would give an easy links to Leeds and Manchester opening up the commuter belt for those cities, and also enable heavy freights to take a much flatter route across the Pennines avoiding the arduous Copy pit and Standedge routes. Gauge enhancement has also been proposed to enable W10 intermodal trains to use the line too. HS2 wouldn’t bring much benefit directly to towns like Colne.
    I’m not saying HS2 is a bad idea, its just about priorities. There are still issues that need to be addressed with the current “classic” network, once that has been done then move on to a High speed system because one without the other won’t work.

  6. Headache says:

    To address Bill Courtney, eddy current brakes are already in service in mainland Europe without requiring additional infrastructure. I fail to understand how these create additional capacity, as braking rates have as much to do with comfort levels for passengers as mechanical limitations.

    One only has to travel by rail these days to see that the existing services are very close to capacity, with such high frequencies that one delay impacts upon several other services and standing room only on many trains. In only a few cases, mainly cross country, is there any real possibility of increasing train lengths. HS2 relieves the three main lines running north from the smoke, and with a little bit of political will there is the potential to reduce line speeds on the southern part of the WCML to make pathing of the remaining passenger trains and freight easier. If you’ve only got 100mph and 75mph trains running, with a four track railway life gets a lot easier and the capacity is increased.

  7. Andrew Craig says:

    I think the term “an act of national self-mutilation” might better apply to covering more and more of our country in concrete. It’s a one-way process; we’re not going to get any more land, and more than enough has already been built on.

  8. Tim Hall says:

    High speed rail takes up far less land than a motorway of equivalent capacity, and you can put it underground in sensitive areas.

  9. Michael says:

    HS2 is not the reinstatement of the old Great Central route.

    The old Great Central route could be reinstated and should be, including most of the stations on it.

    We do need capacity. We do not need the marginal extra speed gain the HS2 project claims.