Norman Baker on HS2 – what he got wrong

What we say about Norman Baker’s comments on HS2 in his speech about transport to the Lib Dems.

Norman Baker says HS2 is needed because that there is a “desperate need for more capacity north-south” and that upgrading the West Coast Main Line is not an option. But the HS2 solution involves waiting 15 years to see any improvement, during which time there will be 7-8 years of disruption at Euston (HS2 Ltd’s timetable), affecting all trains going to the London end of the West Coast Main Line. As there will be disruption on the West Coast Main Line terminus if HS2 goes ahead, surely it is better to look at solutions that will increase capacity on the line much sooner then HS2 might.

He says that HS2 is needed to share prosperity around the country. We agree that prosperity and jobs should not be concentrated in one part of the UK: we want to see people in Manchester, in Newcastle, in Wales having real choices and real options about jobs. But as evidence to the Transport Select Committee, from Prof Vickerman of Kent University, said a fortnight ago, the academic research isn’t there to back up claims that HS2 will reduce the north south divide. The evidence is that HS2 will reduce the number of jobs in Wales.

And what is worse, is that HS2 Ltd were not set upto design a railway to reduce the north south divide. They were not asked to assess alternative ways of addressing the problem of regional disparities: they were asked to look into building a fast railway. By tying up £33 billion of taxpayer’s money on HS2 and calling it the means for reducing the north-south divide, the money is not available for other options, while politicians cross their fingers and hope it works.

Norman Baker says “Thirdly, there will be carbon gains arising from modal shift from domestic air to rail.”

But this is not what HS2 Ltd say or Philip Hammond says. They both say that operating HS2 is “broadly carbon neutral”: HS2 Ltd say, in their February 2011 consultation document, that carbon emissions might actually increase.

In some ways what was of most interest though was the quotes that Norman Baker used to illustrate his speech:

“That wildly wrong assertion is perhaps bettered only by William Preece, the Royal Mail’s Chief Engineer, who in 1878 grandly stated: “The Americans need the telephone but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.””

HS2 Ltd is making the case for the new line based on a predicted massive increase in the demand for travel. Things won’t change, they say, in spite of people using telepresence videoconferencing and other digital technologies…

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7 comments to “Norman Baker on HS2 – what he got wrong”
  1. Pingback: Lib Dem Minister misleads public on HS2 | HillingdonAgainstHS2

  2. Basically, Norman Baker got most of it wrong. I am very disappointed in the Lib Dems stance on HS2, now they are part of the Government they seem to have lost common sense.

  3. Pro HS2 really should stop the argument that trains = environmentally-friendly. There’s nothing at all environmentally-friendly about travelling at super high speeds. The DfT’s own report: “Delivering a Sustatinable Railway” (July 2007 6.14) states that 250km/h trains use 90% more fuel than 200km/h trains. They really are trying to preach to the ignorant when they try to claim the nonsense argument that railways are by definition environmentally-friendly.

    • And yet the Green Party advocate investment in rail generally …..would they be doing that if railways are by definition NOT enviromentally friendly ????? I think not !!

      • I think you misunderstand, Gary. I did not say that railways are by definition environmentally unfriendly. What I meant was that just because it’s a railway does not by definition mean it’s environmentally-friendly. Of course rail CAN be environmentally-friendly, but trains that travel at excessively high speeds are very energy inefficient, making them very environmentally-UNfriendly. Your comment about the Green Party is interesting because although they are generally in favour of railways, they are totally against HS2. There’s no “green” argument that can justify using 90% more fuel to travel at 350km/h (220mph) compared to travelling at 200 km/h (125mph). It’s even more environmentally unsound when you realise that those sorts of speeds forces the tracks to be built relatively straight (and hence through “protected” areas). In addition none of the trains would stop on the routes through which they’re passing making them inaccessible to many hundreds of thousands of potential passengers. That’s why the pro-HS2 lobby cannot use the “green” argument.

        [NB: There’s a typo in first posting – it should read 350km/h (not 250km/h) trains use 90% more fuel than 200 km/h trains (DfT figures)].

    • CO2 is not a very good way to measure environmental impact.
      Carbon neutral maybe, but the construction, and the every-day running, will take so much away.
      Overcrowding is a problem everywhere, here in the East we have overcrowded trains.

      Also, that whitepaper was very unfair to Maglev, it go it’s facts wrong, and misquoted the experts into saying Magkev is more costly then it is

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