This is a guest post from VoxOpp
The announcement made on 1 April by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, to business and civic leaders from London and the South East, that “Many towns and cities could benefit from a huge rise in direct trains to London once a new high speed rail network is built”, may have sounded encouraging but it actually promised nothing.
It was, in fact, just another example of the drip-fed misinformation with which the government repeatedly tries to deceive the population into believing that there is a sound business case for HS2. The truth regarding this latest statement is that, as things stand, there are no plans whatsoever to increase train services anywhere as a direct result of building HS2.
In fact, the opposite is true. In response to this question being asked at the HS2 roadshow at London’s Euston station, a Department for Transport spokesman said, “Train services will be cut on existing lines as there will be fewer passenger journeys”, explaining that this would be due to the increased capacity provided by HS2. This response was not surprising as it is exactly the same argument put forward for the recently introduced HS1 in Kent.
Lord Adonis, then Transport Secretary, had claimed HS1 would “transform the journeys of large numbers of rail passengers”, just as Philip Hammond claims now for HS2. The actual result is that the high speed trains from Kent achieve little, if any, reduction in time over the old services for most commuters from Kent. Further, these old services have been deliberately slowed down to make the high speed trains’ performance look better and some of the old services have been cut. Between Chatham and London, for example, there used to be 14 rush-hour trains on the old line. Now there are 11.
If HS2 were to be built, the nine high-speed/classic compatible trains each hour that would travel beyond Birmingham, would continue their journeys on the existing network at an overall slower speed than the pendelinos currently in use can achieve. As Lichfield, a little further north, is already the most congested part of the West Coast Main Line, other services would inevitably have to be cancelled to accommodate them.
However, there are viable alternatives to HS2. Plans exist which could deliver a massive 135% improvement in the capacity of the existing West Coast Main Line, more than HS2 can deliver, and speed up its services. Called Rail Package 2, these plans are not popular with the government as they render the vastly more expensive HS2 project unnecessary. When National Rail first published them last year, just a few days before HS2 was announced, the government tried to bury these plans. They never released the fact that in a comparison between the two, RP2 had a better business case than HS2 and at a fraction of the latter’s cost. The only thing RP2 would not deliver is those shiny new super high-speed trains. For that reason the government now tries to rubbish RP2 at every opportunity.
Further, plans to greatly improve rail services in the north, called the Northern Hub or Manchester Hub project, also exist. Again from Network Rail, these plans aim to revolutionise trans-Pennine rail with high-speed, non-stop services connecting cities across the North to cut the journey time between Leeds and Manchester, and Sheffield and Manchester to about 40 minutes, and between Bradford and Manchester journey to 50 minutes. And these plans additionally increase and improve existing stopping services between those cities. David Higgins, the new National Rail chief executive said, “The great thing about the Northern Hub is that we can get a 50 per cent increase in passenger utilisation and a return on investment of around four to one. From my point of view, we must make it our top priority to invest in the plans”.
Interestingly, although these plans received no mention in the original HS2 plans one tiny reference has been quietly slipped into the consultation document. Yet it is these plans, not HS2, which are capable of delivering real benefits for the north at a comparatively small £0.5billion.
Many countries which have built high speed rail systems have already found some reasons to be disenchanted with them. In Britain, we have the opportunity to be clever, to go a different route and not rush headlong into a money pit. HS2 would benefit only a few, to the detriment of the rest of the country and in particular still leaving the north out in the cold. But the government, seeing only the latest must-have fashion, remains determined to play ‘follow the leader’.