“These mega-projects are the quack remedies of modern politics”

Thursday’s Guardian had an article by Simon Jenkins on the HS3 proposal – High-speed 3? These mega-projects are the quack remedies of modern politics. He points out that transport investment in the north-west has been calculated at £134 a head, but £2,730 in London, but goes on to say

“Whether the answer lies in glamour mega-projects is less certain. Osborne loves them, particularly as his successors will have to find the cash. He doesn’t know the meaning of austerity so long as a project is in the south. Show him a London Crossrail, a London Olympics, a London garden bridge or an HS2 to London and his pockets overflow. An empty council flat may appal him, but an empty first-class carriage into Euston is just a quiet ride home….

“Mega-projects have become the quack remedies of modern politics. As soon as one is mooted it attracts lobbyists – and Labour’s Lord Adonis – like moths to a light. The Treasury, once a stern judge of such projects, has become their uncritical lapdog. It builds Crossrail 1 rather than the more sensible Crossrail 2; HS2 rather than the more sensible east coast route from the north to HS1; it subsidises trains where coaches are more affordable; and it backs garden cities that increase commuting pressure instead of urban renewal; and it supports two universities in every city where one would do.

“A new high-speed railway across the Pennines would apparently cost £7bn, roughly what Osborne wanted to spend getting his HS2 in London from Wormwood Scrubs to St Pancras. The St Pancras part of this link, to HS1, has now been abandoned. This means the government is proposing two high-speed lines, neither of which will run through to the continental high-speed network – transport planning at its daftest.

“No railwayman believes HS3 will ever be built. High-speed trains are for countries with long distances and straight tracks between stops. Across the Pennines will always be winding, and the energy cost of stopping and starting high. Spending billions to halve journey times from Manchester to Leeds is poor value for money against upgrading existing track, for which there is already a £600m “northern hub” plan. Meanwhile, Osborne still wants to blow £50bn (probably far more) on HS2 to ease the lot of rush-hour commuters into Euston. Lobbyists, the media and consultants love these adventures in public spending. The headlines are big and the upfront fees huge. The projects are rarely economic and starve more productive investments of cash. It is hard to avoid the judgment that Osborne’s “HS3″ is for the election, not for real.”

An early HS2 document did suggest a future route that included a Leeds-Manchester route.From High Speed Rail London to the West Midlands and Beyond A Report to Government by High Speed Two Limited 2009

Meanwhile Lord Adonis has himself poured scorn on the chancellor’s proposal

“It’s not going to be a high-speed line, he’s just making a big thing of further upgrading the line. The big thing the north needs is to get HS2 in the 2020s, rather than the 2030s. What they’ve done is to divide HS2 at Birmingham, meaning the North will not see HS2 until the 2030s, whereas what they should have done, and I would have done, is to treat HS2 as one project, getting it up to Leeds and Manchester in the 2020s and of course that would have transformed connections between the North, the Midlands and London – the three big economic centres of geography would have been linked.”

Of course it was Lord Adonis who announced HS2 without including the route to Manchester, a Heathrow interchange or for that matter a link to HS1.

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One comment to ““These mega-projects are the quack remedies of modern politics””
  1. This article is not against HS2 per se, it points out flaws in the project – of which I do not deny there are. As a railway enthusiast I believe HS3 does not need to happen as the Trans-Pennine route is winding and it is not at full capacity. Upgrading the line with electrification and ERTMS, and perhaps using tilting trains, would certainly do as the distances are not great either.

    But very few railwayman think that HS2 does not need building, although many like me think that it can be done better.

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