Christmas Letters?

Justine has written to her Cousin Philip:-

Dear Phil,

I realise that you’re very busy playing soldiers these days and may no longer be too interested in my concerns regarding the decision I must soon make regarding the new train set which you, Uncle Dave and Uncle George told me would be in my (sorry I think you actually said the national) interest, but I wanted to tell you about a disturbing dream I had this week. 

I was at a party in Santa’s grotto.  You were all there, along with Auntie Cheryl, although she seemed to be less than in the party spirit.  Lots of others too – many I didn’t recognise, but seemed to include many foreigners as well as bigwigs from around the UK.

At first I thought that she was just tired after a long journey back from Cardiff, but she gave me some reports to read at the end of the party, saying that I ought to consider them carefully before accepting Santa (Uncle George’s) cheque for the new train set.  After all it does seem that spending such a huge sum of money in recessionary times, without properly checking and testing the underlying facts and figures is plain crazy.  As I well understand from my previous job, the Treasury Green Book says that we must be “transparent in sifting alternatives”.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the details of what Auntie Cheryl passed on to me.  But I do tend to agree with her that the case for a new train set does indeed seem to be based on some very dodgy figures.  For instance, in the initial HS2 Model Development Report  by Atkins, dated February 2010, it is clear from tables 8.6 and 8.7 that the transfer from Classic Rail to a new high speed line drops off substantially if a premium fare is applied to the latter in the model.  Yet Uncle Dave’s case for this new train set is based on no such premium fare.  Passengers, both business and leisure switch primarily because travel on a new high speed line would be faster. For example 40% less people would travel on the high speed line from London to Birmingham if the fare differential was raised to just 30%.  Surely having fare levels the same can’t be realistic Phil.  The report adds that people would want to travel on a high speed line as it would be more reliable than the West Coast Main line, because all trains would be travelling at the same speed.  I’m no transport expert Phil but reliability is also a function of other component parts of the journey and of linking services north of Birmingham.  Hence adopting reliability as a criteria for switching to high speed trains is also somewhat dodgy, and thus by deriving Benefit Cost ratios based on  good reliability and no premium fare, it is not surprising that HS2 looks like a good deal.

I also read with despair about growth predictions and valuing working time on trains.  Surely, Phil, unless and until we subject all the assumptions to effective independent scrutiny we might as well stick to our existing train set and make improvements to that. 


Phil replies…

Justine, Justine

Stop wobbling! Of course l had a chat with the uncles about my concerns, but they just talked about my career and I soon got the message. There’s a lot more to politics than Pimms and punting on the Thames in Putney you know.  It’s not whether any policy is right or wrong that matters.  Don’t know why you’re being so slow to catch on!  Some of those big barons in your dream were those who build and operate high speed train sets around the world.  They need new markets, so who do you think they’ve been talking to?  By 2026 the uncles will be working in Brussels – remember Neil and Glenys?

Look at your problem this way.  If it’s not the people who elected you, (i.e. your electorate), being trashed then you are home and dry. I found putting a piece of cotton wool in my ears helped quite a lot – maybe you should try it. Just make sure you get the priorities right on which or whose interest you are worrying about, or need to worry about, and then it all becomes clear.

Actually I am looking for a site for a long distance tank training course. Perhaps we could plan it alongside the HS2 route – they won’t notice the additional noise!

Chin up old girl! 
Cousin Phil.

One comment to “Christmas Letters?”
  1. Dear Santa (Uncle George)

    All I want for Christmas is HS2 to be abandoned, and for a high-tech Maglev line to be built in its place.

    I know I am asking for a lot, there are so many vested interests at stake, and even though HSR might be out-dated, a lot of companies stand to make money; the Chinese are oh-so looking forward to owning yet more of this once great nation.

    But I have been a good boy all year, and hope you would remember all the nice things you said about Maglev on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (, be it 5 years ago, isn’t it funny how politicians change tune when they are in government?

    So if you have an axe in your sack for me, please use it on HS2.


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