by Phil Marsh

HS2 debate becomes a two sided argument – at last!

Published: 15th November 2013

Anti HS2 protesters seize on perceived reduction of benefits for the UK economy - but do they contin

The latest HS2 business case to be published by HS2 Ltd suggests that the project will generate £2.30 for every £1 spent on the railway line. This is a slight reduction on the previous analysis due the authors say, to the higher cost of the project now put at £42 billion diluting the payback.

What’s the alternative to the proposed line? The DfT and Network Rail say that 14 years of engineering works would be needed to upgrade the existing three north-south routes or in other terms, would bring around 2500 weekend rail closures across the network.

The main political parties are now involved in point scoring and ignoring what a new railway line can do for the UK as an entity. HS2 Chief Executive Alison Munroe says that HS2 needs Cross party support and that she is confident that the latest business case, the fifth published, demonstrates this.

It is possible to work on a train!

What pretty much everyone knows is that it is eminently possible to work while on a train. This seems to have come as a surprise to the organisations promoting the high speed railway only just now making this benefit clear!

The new announcement acknowledges that passengers can and do work on a train but that the extra productivity does not alter the business case. This is obviously a huge benefit over driving but can it be costed as a benefit?

The anti-HS2 lobby says that technology will mean that people will not need to travel as they will ‘Skype’ or whatever is used in 2026. HS2 say that despite Skype, Twitter and mobile phone browsing, passenger levels continue to rise with journeys doubling over the last 15 years.

There are eight major cities supporting the project. These include Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Leeds and their collective view is that the existing railway is filling up and will soon be at saturation point in many areas. HS2 Ltd says that by 2026, there could be 150 passengers chasing 100 seats on every intercity train serving Birmingham for example.

The group also remind those against the project that the West Coast Main Line upgrade was far more expensive and took years longer than was ever envisaged. After all this, it still didn’t deliver the full specification of 140mph and state of the art signalling, and still doesn’t.

Same old song?

But, Chiltern based politicians ranging between MPs and Parish Council members are vehemently and vociferously against HS2. However, on one of the special trains between Aylesbury and Chinnor in October, they were outspoken in their anti-HS2 stance but when engaged in conversation with rail-savvy passengers in direct conversation, their anti-HS2 arguments crumbled quickly when confronted with how the railways work as and operate.

Chesham MP Ms Gillan has yet again repeated her misunderstanding of railway finances so far as trains are concerned. The trains that will be running on HS2 will be paid for by private finance and leased by the train operator and so will not raise the cost of HS2 to £50 billion from the budgeted £42 Billion.

Therefore, trains are not part of the capital cost of building a railway line as she claims, but will allow more trains to be released for ‘normal’ lines when taken away from fast express services. The train leasing market in the UK is a big and standalone business in its own right, and it is in the Rolling Stock leasing companies financial interests to keep all trains in service.

Connections

The HS2 project will require good onward local connections with other public transport facilities. Perhaps the best example is at Meadowhall in Sheffield as this is an interchange with the Sheffield tram system linking directly with main line trains allowing easy access to the rail routes and car parking. Manchester and Nottingham have similar rail/tram interchanges.

The station at Toton to serve the East Midlands is not a great location as it currently stands but it is now up to the local authorities to invest in a connecting tram or transport system to Derby and Nottingham.

Cross–Country travel will be enhanced as there will be a better service between the northeast, the Northwest and the Midlands relieving the existing overcrowded services. More trains and journey opportunities will open up when the line opens. In fact, HS2 Ltd says that 18 cities will directly benefit from the line.

Freight

Hs2 will allow more freight paths to be created on existing routes as fast services are diverted onto the new line. As many as 20 new paths a day will be available on the West Coast Main Line serving places like Daventry, Hams Hall and Trafford Park freight centres. So motorists will benefit from half a million lorry journeys being switched to rail HS2 says.

And the future

It has been estimated that the population will grow by 11 million people in the next 20 years and that the economy will double. The existing transport system will not cope and roads will become more congested as railways clog up. Domestic flights are not the answer so as is happening across the World, the high speed rail network is expanding fast.

Rail is also many times safer than roads so this is a cost that needs considering in every sense as less people will be killed and injured if people switch from road to rail.

They said

The Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin said:

We need a radical solution and HS2 is it. A patch and mend job will not do – the only option is a new north south railway. HS2 brings massive benefits to the north, is great for commuters and the alternatives just don’t stack up.

Now is the time to be bold and deliver a world class railway which Britain deserves and can truly be proud of. Future generations will not forgive us if we fail to take this opportunity.

The East Coast, West Coast and Midland Main Lines can only carry a finite number of trains each day before they become clogged. HS2 will add 18 trains an hour between Manchester, Leeds and London and will allow significantly more freight onto the wider rail network.

The new railway is also estimated to deliver an annual boost to the economy of up to £15 billion as a result of productivity benefits to business from faster journeys and reduced crowding. There will also be benefits of increased production efficiency from businesses being closer together. The analysis shows that the railway is vital in rebalancing the economy benefiting the north overall more than the south.

The government expects considerable regeneration around stations delivering jobs and growth similar to the experience of HS1 (the Channel Tunnel rail link). The ‘Strategic case’ points to £10 billion private sector investment around the new HS1 station sites as well as Google, the Crick Institute and other major international firms moving in to the area around King’s Cross and St Pancras demonstrating the likely economic investment expected along the HS2 route.

Other benefits of the railway included in the document are estimates from Network Rail that over 100 cities and towns could benefit from new or improved services as a result of capacity released on the existing rail network. These include:

• additional commuter services into London from places such as Watford, Milton Keynes, Rugby and Northampton

• new commuter services into Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester

• new longer distance services, for example providing new and better links between Bradford and London; Lincoln and London Shrewsbury and London; and Leeds and Cambridge

• more paths for rail freight, with at least 1,000 lorry-loads a day carried on the network

What happens next?

Finally, HS2 says that HS2 will be a national asset for the next generation. Time will tell but something has to be done! The worst thing that can happen is that politicians fight on principles as this really could create cost escalations if the specification changes.

The project is due to be debated in Parliament – it will be interesting if the politicians concentrate on point scoring or making sure the job gets done to the best of everyone’s ability.

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