With the continuing drop of passenger numbers on the railways, the case for HS2 has never seemed weaker, but even so, the government pushed ahead with the second reading of HS2 Phase 2b on Monday.
There was a vote, it passed.
However this is not a good news story for HS2 Ltd, or other HS2 fans, there was no cross-party support in the votes. Of the 203 votes in favour, they were all Conservatives, apart from a lone MP from the Democratic Unionist Party.
Five Conservatives – Bill Cash, Philip Hollobone, Esther McVey, Greg Smith and Desmond Swayne, along with Tellers, Peter Bone and Philip Davies, voted against.
Nobody else voted. Not a single Labour MP voted, not a single Lib Dem voted, nor any SNP, nor any MP from the smaller parties and independents. For that matter, 146 Conservative MPs didn’t vote. Of the 237 MPs who might vote in a Parliamentary division, two thirds didn’t vote.
So claims of cross-party support were not borne out by the people going through the Lobbies.
Meanwhile, railway workers are striking over changes to working patterns, including the threat of compulsory redundancies, due to falling passenger numbers. The Transport Secretary himself has been fully converted to the view that the rail industry is “in a battle with Zoom, Teams and remote working.”
The latest Office for Rail and Road statistics (published 16th June 2022), show that while passenger numbers for the most recent year might have doubled compared to 2020-21 (at the height of the pandemic), they are still only 56.9% of passenger numbers from 2019-2020. Revenue has also nearly halved to £5.9 billion, compared to £11 billion in 2019-2020.
In particular, long distance revenue per passenger kilometre has dropped most, by 14.9%. As the ORR says “The Long Distance sector generated 14.2p per passenger kilometre this year, down 14.9% compared with two years ago.” And yet this is the type of journey HS2 is supposed to replace, but people aren’t spending the money.
What’s more even in Manchester, the HS2 enchantment is fading. Even the Manchester Evening News published a blistering editorial condemning the current HS2 plans to bring the railway into Manchester on a viaduct, and the city leaders warn that the HS2 plans would squander many of the regeneration benefits and create a station at Manchester Piccadilly which was “inefficient, unable to cope with future growth and a poor welcome to the city”.
In the topsy-turvy world of HS2, it might seem perfectly logical to plough on with a plan to pay £billions of taxpayers money to construction companies, whilst simultaneously expecting railway workers to take compulsory redundancies due to falling passenger numbers and revenues, whilst people work from home to avoid travel.
In reality, the logical thing to do would be to cancel the white elephant that is HS2.