Simon Jenkins’ excellent article in the Guardian this week ably exposes the delusion of believing vastly expensive infrastructure projects such as HS2 will have a transformative impact on traffic congestion.
97% of all journeys are by road. That may be less than desirable but it’s where we are starting from as a nation.
Increasing train passenger numbers each year have been used to suggest lines such as the West Coast Mainline will be full within a decade; naturally with HS2 trotted out as the solution. However, congestion on roads is far more serious and in much greater need of attention.
At the Transport Select Committee this week, the new Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, spoke persuasively about the modal shift from lorries to rail in terms of carrying freight. HS2, by creating so many new train paths, would be freeing up space for new service opportunities on the classic network. Motorways and A roads would be beneficiaries too.
This all sounds like a brighter tomorrow for everyone but at the heart the ‘step change’ in the capacity is one high-speed line. The underlying assumption is that HS2 will operate at 18 rain paths an hour. No high-speed network in the world runs at anything like that frequency at present. Those operating the TGV in France believe 13 paths may be the practical maximum.
If HS2 can’t run at the proposed frequency, the volume of additional freight and passenger train paths created may be significantly fewer than anticipated.
We will have still spent £56bn by 2033, possibly substantially more, but the additional capacity HS2 delivers may be much less dazzling than the Transport Select Committee was told this week.
And where will be then, having put nearly all our eggs into one basket case?