HS2 rail link will be a dead loss to taxpayers
SO, THE Government is to press ahead with the HS2 "high speed" rail link from London to Birmingham and thereafter with branches to Manchester and another to Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds.
The cost – a conservative estimate is £35 billion, equivalent to half a million pounds per person, every man woman and child in the UK, bearing in mind that a significant proportion of that will go to landowners and householders in terms of compensation.
In other words, a dead loss to the taxpayer.
What do we expect in return? In truth, nothing more than a prestige project which we are told will improve the economic activity in and around the terminal hub destinations by providing a fast link to the capital, though nobody has explained exactly how.
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Leaving aside environmental objections, there are a number of reasons why this argument is fundamentaly flawed.
The first and most obvious is that journey times using improved existing track and infrastructure can approach those of the proposed high speed link. We must not allow ourselves to be persuaded by this statement put about by the proponents of the HS2 that the existing infrastructure is incapable of meeting future transport needs.
This is utter nonsense.
In the case of the East Coast Main Line where journey times are considered to be satisfactory (it is the links to peripheral destinations that require improvement) a vast improvement to capacity could be made by restoring four-track operation along the entire section from London to Newcastle. This will also have the additional advantage of attracting more freight operations. Consider more than 90 per cent of UK freight travels by road as opposed to an EU average of less than 70 per cent.
A similar argument can be applied to the West Coast Main Line, to the GW Line to Bristol and South Wales and to the Midland Line to the East Midlands when electrified.
The second argument against HS2 is there will be insufficient numbers of passengers willing to pay the premium price that is required to achieve even break-even running costs.
The experience of the Spanish HS network bears sad witness to this. One has only to await the arrival of the HS train from Madrid at Seville's brand spanking new Santa Justa station, to count scarcely two dozen passengers alight – hardly worth the effort!
Most importantly in my opinion is the need to focus resources not on links to the capital, but rather to improve local passenger networks by building more park and ride stations with bypass lines allowing express trains on busy sections to pass and reopening closed lines and stations.
Have you ever observed that no European rolling stock is ever seen on UK lines? The answer is, of course, simple.
The EU loading gauge is both wider and higher.
The stock would bump into bridges and tunnels in the UK.
If the Government, and just as importantly their civil servants, were committed to creating the rail network worthy of the 21st century, they would upgrade the entire network to European standards, which amongst other things would allow double-decker commuter trains. What a good idea!
Julian (Juli) Le Moine,
Willingham Street, Grimsby.
The Telegraph says
Could such a high speed rail link ever be commercially succesful without making the cost too out of reach of rail passengers?