Yesterday David Cameron echoed what Stop HS2 has been saying for the last five years: that people want to work on trains.
The thing is, the case for HS2 is based on the assumption that time spent on trains is entirely wasted and therefore if someone is on a fast train that somehow turns into economic benefits. HS2 Ltd have persistently ignored the effect of digital technologies, whereas business passengers point out that they make use of travel time to work.
In 2010 wifi was an expensive novelty, but the cost of on-board wifi has fallen, with David Cameron saying that from 2017, free wi-fi will be rolled out. Some train companies, such as South West Trains already offer free wifi.
It’s highly likely that the ability to work on trains will affect whether people decide to take fast expensive trains or cheaper conventional speed trains. But when looking at the speed options, the Department for Transport have always assumed faster is better. Part of the reason HS1 has only a third of the passengers originally predicted is because they missed out the threats to their business model and yet HS2 is casually disregarding threats to their business model (in HS1’s case low-cost airlines).
Maria Miller had complained at Prime Ministers Questions, that trains in Hampshire were “stuck in the analogue age” and asked “what the Government can do to help commuters and others get access to wi-fi on our trains?”
David Cameron answered:
It is vital for businesses and for individuals to be able to access wi-fi, do their work and make other contacts while they are on trains. I am pleased to announce plans that will see the roll-out of free wi-fi on trains across the United Kingdom from 2017. The Government will invest nearly £50 million to ensure that rail passengers, who make more than 500 million journeys every year, are better connected, with the four rail operators—Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern; Southeastern; Chiltern; and Arriva Trains Wales—all benefiting from that investment.