Ever since the original announcement of HS2 in 2010, fundamental assumptions about the project have been undermined by those who support it. Back then it was the fact that ARUP, the consultancy who drew up all the original plans for HS2, had told all their staff not to travel for meetings but to use video conferencing instead. Since then, and especially so in the last few weeks, we keep seeing photographs of politicians who support HS2 doing work on trains, something the business case for HS2 insists that no-one ever does.
Now, the question of whether anyone would be able to afford HS2 has been questioned by the current policy of Network Rail. Whilst people travelling on company business use trains for short distance journeys within the UK, £1.3m was spent last year on internal flights, not because travelling that way was quicker, but because it was cheaper.
Transport Focus responded:
“It is no surprise that so many longer-distance journeys were made by air. Unless passengers can book weeks in advance, rail can be prohibitively expensive for many people.”
“Less than half of passengers are satisfied with the value for money of train fares. The rail industry needs to address this if it wants to compete with airlines.”
Network Rail, like many other firms, currently have a policy that staff should travel by the cheapest means of transport on company business, which is why £1.3m was spent in a two year period on internal flights. This obviously raises a question about whether or not those companies would allow their staff to travel on HS2 on company business.
Whilst the business case for HS2 relies on the fares being the same as the current trains, those levels which Network Rail themselves have deemed too expensive, the reality is that successive Secretaries of State for Transport have insisted that no decision has been made on what the fares would be, and that that would be up to whoever if running the railways at the time when HS2 services start.
The reason the current forecasting for HS2 claims the prices would be the same is of course it is the only way they can make the business case work, by the lack of a price differential helping generate massively exaggerated passenger numbers. As anyone knows, the more expensive trains are, the less likely people are to use them when there are alternative modes of travel, or indeed alternative rail services.
Putting that back into the context of HS2, this is one of the reasons that the Chiltern Railways service from London to Birmingham has done so well in recent years, it may be slower than the comparable Virgin service, but it is cheaper and arguably a better service in terms of the passenger experience.
Out of the three current London-Birmingham services, the correlation between price and speed is clear; the slowest one is the cheapest, the quickest one is the dearest. When HS2 comes along there is no reason at all to imagine that it would not become the most expensive option, and of course it is the case that HS1 in Kent is a premium priced service, compared to other services from the county to the capital.
But of course, forget HS2 having fares above current levels for long-distance journeys, Network Rail don’t even think the current fares are affordable……