Taking the truth serum (part 1)

From Peter Delow’s blog, HS2 and the environment: originally published 12th May

In my blog An exercise in creative writing (posted 8 May 2013) I commented on the “spin” that HS2 Ltd had applied to its press release Euston Station to become vibrant destination as part of plans for HS2. In one of my more wicked moments recently, an amusing thought crossed my mind. I imagined the bright young things of the HS2 Ltd spin doctor department gathered together to discuss how to write that Euston Station press release. Supposing, I contemplated, that a malefactor had infiltrated the meeting and had laced the skinny lattes with sodium pentothal (see footnote). Encouraged to tell the truth by the administered drug, what might the spin doctors have come up with in place of the “vibrant station” bit of nonsense that was issued by HS2 Ltd? Now of course we will never see the “truth serum” version of that press release, but it seemed to me that I could have a bit of fun writing it for HS2 Ltd. I did, and here it is.

Plans to regenerate Euston Station dropped to avoid political backlash

Now there is no easy way of saying this, but somebody has really screwed up. The budgets that were drawn up for the HS2 project in 2009 were really optimistic and, now that we are starting to get our heads around the details, that is becoming more apparent. As a result the powers that be have saddled us with really tight cost constraints that mean that we have to throw the “good intentions” that we had at the start of the project, such as minimising environmental damage, right out of the window. There really is no alternative. If the politicians get even a hint that the costs are spiralling out of control, they are likely to take fright and drop the whole idea. Then all of us at HS2 Ltd would lose our jobs, and we don’t want that.

I don’t know how we got it so wrong – there are some really clever people working here – but it’s not the only thing. Who on earth thought, for example, that it would be cheaper to modify eighteen bridges in busy west London, with all the massive traffic congestion that would result, rather than tunnel under all the trouble. Luckily, we were saved from that folly by the local community, who seemed to be able to see what we couldn’t. The bloke who thought that one up was probably the same one who decided that we could rebuild Euston Station on the same site without closing it; now that we have looked at it we recognise that it would just take years and years and bring operations to a grinding halt. Just think how that would go down with rail passengers and of all the complaints that our political masters would get; we really don’t want to upset the politicians, do we?

Sorry, I’m wittering on. The whole point of this press release is to break the news that, in view of the above-mentioned problems, we have abandoned our plans for a smart new London terminus for our grand projet and that you will just have to make do with a bit of a bodge.

What we have come up with is really quite clever. One of our engineers, an old geezer who had worked on the Channel Tunnel link in the very early days, remembered what had been done to modify Waterloo Station to accommodate the international trains. There a virtually separate train shed has been added at the side of the existing building. That idea even won the RIBA Building of the Year award, for heaven’s sake! Yes it was only a temporary solution, but let’s not dwell on that. Then someone pointed out that we are planning to do something similar at Manchester Piccadilly for Phase 2 of HS2 and, Bob’s your uncle, a way to cut hundreds of millions of pounds off the cost of Euston was staring us in the face.

Now it does mean that passengers using “classic services” at Euston will have to continue to put up with the really awful facilities, but we want to discourage them from using the old trains anyway, don’t we. As it happens, we’ve got to do some fiddling with the old station, such as rearranging some platforms and improving the ticket hall for the Underground, so we can tart it up a bit whilst we are at it. Yes it means that we must loose all hope of the new Euston Station becoming an “iconic” building, but the plans that I have seen for the old concept look more like a supermarket than an architectural landmark, so it’s probably no great loss.

Of course, if we don’t do it properly as a part of the HS2 project then you can probably kiss goodbye to the regeneration of Euston Station for decades, but I don’t think that we need to concern ourselves about that – it’s HS2 that is important, and we must do nothing to risk that happening.

The best part of it is that we can do all the development of the new HS2 station on land that we have “reclaimed” from the local community, without having to worry much about the old Euston Station. I know that the HS2 station will be a bit of a “lean-to”, but we will be able to concentrate on making our Euston Station really nice for the business people that we want to attract – we can have really posh first-class lounge type accommodation to differentiate our customers from the rabble using the old West Coast Main Line services. We might even make the toilets free to use.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: Yes I know that sodium pentothal is administered intravenously and that the effect of truth serums on subjects is not as straightforward as I have imagined, but I don’t think that the present purposes require us to get too bogged down in the medical details.

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One comment on “Taking the truth serum (part 1)
  1. Pingback: STOP HS2 | Taking the truth serum (part 2)

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