Has Justine got the answers?

In November, the Transport Select Committee published their findings on their inquiry on high speed rail.

They spent months gathering evidence, reading numerous submissions on high speed rail and HS2 in particular, and they questioned lots of oral witnesses in a number of separate sessions.

And at the end of it, the TSC concluded that there were a large number of major issues which still needed to be answered.

123. Many issues about the Government’s proposal for HS2 and about high-speed rail in general have been raised in the course of our inquiry. We have pointed to a number of areas that we believe need to be addressed by the Government in the course of progressing HS2. These include the provision of greater clarity on the policy context, the assessment of alternatives, the financial and economic case, the environmental impacts, connections to Heathrow and the justification for the particular route being proposed.

These aren’t about the details – although they had a number of concerns about those as well – but major questions which fundamentally affect the decision as to whether it is rational to continue with HS2.

We think – along with the many people who have contacted her – that the HS2 proposal is a bad proposal for the nation, and that the only rational decision is to cancel it as soon as possible.

As HS2 Ltd have been unable to provide the public with answers to these issues from the TSC – issues which should have been looked at before the HS2 proposal was made public in 2010 – we think Justine Greening knows the HS2 Ltd proposal is incredibly weak and that to spend £33 billion on it will provide little for the typical taxpayers who are expected to fund it.

If you agree that Justine Greening should cancel HS2, please get in touch with her, get in touch with your MP, and let them know that you think HS2 is a bad proposal for the country.

(Details on ways to contact Justine here and here.

Download our submission: Stop HS2 Submission to the TSC.)

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29 comments to “Has Justine got the answers?”
  1. “The absence of a high-speed rail line connecting the north of England to London and the European Union is a continuous embarrassment to British businesses promoting UK plc overseas”

    Kind of supports my view that HS2 is a vanity project.

      • Yes- HS2 is presented as the only option to save us from economic doom but the linespeed on the WCML could be increased to 140mph with in-cab signalling. That’s hardly an unreasonable option.

        These days I don’t expect much more than total venality from the British corporate sector but I am annoyed that the unions have swallowed the myths about HS2 as well and are now parroting the nonsense about job creation.

  2. I think the letter to the FT shows that even if professors can be profoundly wrong. To compare the UK, which has a comprensive rail network to counrties such as Morocco and Saudi Arabia which do not is bizarre and frankly stupid. The UK does not have vast empty areas to cross to get from city to city, far from it. I am worried the lunatics are going to get their way.

    • They are and the reason is simply heuristics. It makes sense on the surface but not in detail but most wont get to the detail before forming an opinion which becomes a belief……..once its a belief its considered a fact. This is a notable flaw in human thinking

    • @Steve: it is quite amusing that opponents of HS2 continue to insist that high speed rail cannot work in the UK, a spurious almost superstitious belief based entirely on a lack of understanding about this technology. To recap: the idea of running high speed trains on dedicated tracks was developed in Japan, pretty much the embodiment of ‘a densely-populated, overcrowded island’ wouldn’t you say? If you want a closer example, try Belgium, which has built FOUR 300 km/h railways.

      And given the Stop HS2 movement seems to have a philosophical aversion to building railways across unspoilt rolling English countryside, I find it odd that the much-trumpeted (and also much discredited) Rail Package Two-based alternative includes ploughing a new 21 km main line railway through open countryside in Staffordshire! Astounding. I guess all countryside is equal etc etc…

      Anyway I’ll keep this brief as my comments on this site are rarely published in any case, I’ve found.

      • As I understand it the population of Belgium is 10.9 million, its pretty much flat and is in the huge landmass that is Europe. Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the administrative centre of the European Union. This has earned the city the title of the Capital of Europe. So I guess that it would be a bit daft to have mainland Europe with high speed rail and omit their “capital”…… Such a loss of face for the Eurocrats.

        the UK however is riddled with rail tracks, full of mountains, full of people, full of close together cities, motorways, airports, lakes, lochs, canals, rivers, ssi’s, AOBs. In case Nickk hasn’t noticed we are also well served by high speed trains that are only sometimes full, and then because of ridiculous pricing policy and timing bands.

        Personally I would much rather NOT borrow more (many more) billions of ££s to fund this. How many trillions of £s do we need to be in debt before the penny drops that we are dead set on the path/railway to penury?

        As the subsidised “business men” hurtle in near empty trains through ravaged countryside, having their fares paid by their companies, the majority who paid for the trains will be back to forelock tugging as the elite sweep past. Only the passengers will be travelling too fast to see us dressed in handme downs and eating crusts, to thank us for providing them with such luxury.

        Utter folly.

        • @lelli0: haha I love the sincerely-held belief that the entire European high speed rail programme was not designed to improve transport at all, but rather it was a 30-year conspiracy to wind up the good burghers of the Chilterns!

          I travel on UK intercity rail services very frequently indeed, rather more frequently than most of the readers of this site I would wager. I agree some peak trains are not full because of the bonkers fares system, but then I would also add that if you look at a period when such bizarre quirks do not apply, eg Sunday pm, you’ll find demand is sky high.

          In any case, the capacity problem is the number of trains not the seats — it is surprising that Stop HS2/HS2AA et al do not advocate reducing the number of trains on the West Coast line if they think the patronage is so weak. Perhaps they know that reform of the fares system would actually stimulate demand and help the case for HS2.

        • @lelli0

          re your comments about WCML trains being only partially full. Do you know where I could get some reliable figures on the numbers of trains on theWCML at peak times and how full they are? I frequently hear claims that the WCML is “close to capacity” but this is never evidenced in the media. Are they really claiming that virtually every train from Glasgow to London is absolutely full? I did see a figure that it was around 80% of “capacity”, which would give a lot of room for growth.

          One of my main concerns is that billions were spent apparently upgrading the WCML in the last decade and now we are being told that the route is essentially chock full and we must build a new greenfield route or the sky will fall in. I am certain that Virgin Trains wanted in-cab signalling to run 140mph trains but for reasons unknown, this was not agreed to by Railtrack/Network Rail.

          Quelle surprise – Network Rail parrot the exact same robot mantra that comes out of every other supporter’s mouth


          When did railways become “vital for Britain”? Even neoliberal Thatcher hated them. I don’t buy for one minute that this country will be worse off without HS2. I am somewhat disturbed to read that Network Rail believe that Milton Keynes is poorly served by trains, a bizarre exaggeration given it is major stop on the WCML.

          • @richard, you will find the research paper link on the home page of hs2AA website. The FT and others have taken it up a few weeks ago.

      • Opponents of HS2 do not say HSR in the UK cannot work, they say we already have high speed trains and that the distances between our major cities are relatively short, thus reducing any potential benefits and negatively altering the economic balance. And a reminder that the preferred HS2 route bisects the undulating hills and valleys of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which Ministers of the Crown have a statutory obligation to protect.

      • @nickk – re the arguments for HS2 are awash with baseless claims and sophistry. What you might call “a spurious almost superstitious belief “. It appears that it is now almost an article of faith to believe that HS2 will “create wealth” yadda yadda yadda. In these uncertaine economic times, it is no doubt psychologically comforting to some people to believe this but as adults, we have to remind ourselves that it is dangerous to believe that fairytales are real.

        Japan has a considerably bigger landmass than the UK. Just because Belgium has bult HSR, we are not obligated to follow suit. But wouldn’t you agree that much of the support for HS2 is motivated by insecure, vain business types who feel a strong irrational urge to be seen to be cutting edge etc?

        I don’t live anywhere near the route which is why I object to HS2 – most of the country won’t see any real benefit from it at all. If the business community want their high speed taxi, they should pay for it from private funds.

      • I suppose it depends on what you mean by “work” Nickk. Consider it at 3 levels :

        1 ) If your definition of “work” is simply to get people from A to B then whether the “high speed trains” go at 225 mph, 185 mph or 155 mph ( all of which meet the definition ) the answer is of course Yes ( although maybe not to the extent of 18 trains per hour each way ).

        2 ) If you mean do they generate the sort of time saving that is generally associated with HSR overseas the answer is No. It’s quite simple really we live in a small country with short journey times. lelli0 made the point about Belgium, I’m sure most HSR journeys starting in Brussels end in a different country. I can’t believe anybody really believes half an hour saved on the Birmingham to London journey is going to be transformational. Of course there are business leaders in Birmingham who would like to have the shorter time, but would they chip in for it ? I don’t think so, ask them to pay additional rates and they will head for the hills. The case is a bit stronger by the time you reach Manchester but compare that saving to the 3 hours plus that was saved when Madrid – Barcelona opened up ( for instance ) and you easily see that the benefits of HS2 would be pygmy like by comparison.

        3 ) If you mean would this scheme help us achieve the “affordable” railway system that Labour, Network Rail and McNulty talk about then the answer is obviously No. The only way that happens is if the government writes off the bulk of its ( ie our ) investment. I don’t think the public would want that and I think a simple question ” Are the government’s HS2 proposals a good use of £ 33 bn of public money ?” would be a good survey question for the forthcoming PR war.

        On the point of whether all bits of land are equal etc . Personally I would say that AONBs ( and I don’t live in the Chilterns ) would be at the top along with National Parks ( just in case the government has any ideas about the Peak District later on ). The additional blight caused by building alongside a motorway would clearly be less than by building just about anywhere else.

  3. I hate to say this but this is going to be approved despite its obvious lunacy. There is a huge sense of desperation surrounding the economy and it is believed that transport projects bring “economic benefits”. The DFT are spending money like we are not nearly a TRILLION in debt.

    This is a letter to the FT by a group of economists. What concerns me is that people cant separate the specific lunacy of this plan from high speed rail in general and these citations of flawed biased studies are beyond irritating. This will happen because of fear and desperation not because of the merits of these specific proposals.

    Thats the bottom line IMO and so people in this area can save 30 minutes on the train only to lose that same time because new station is in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!!

    Sir, We welcome the government’s commitment to putting the promotion of growth and enhancement of competitiveness at the core of its concerns given the fragile state of the world economy. While the UK continues to make up for lost ground since the 2007 financial crisis, productive output remains sluggish.

    As economists, we are concerned that our poor infrastructure is a major vulnerability to Britain’s economic competitiveness and future growth. The UK’s infrastructure has steadily fallen behind competing countries over the past decade. The World Economic Forum has ranked the UK a mediocre 28th for “quality of overall infrastructure” and 19th for our railroads. Between 2000 and 2007 the UK was the lowest investor in infrastructure of all the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. The UK has a massive infrastructure deficit, estimated at £500bn over the next decade, lagging significantly behind our closest global competitors in northern Europe such as France and Germany.
    Economic studies show that effective modes of transport, including high-speed rail, enable entrepreneurs to get their goods and services to market in a secure and timely manner and facilitate the movement of workers to the most suitable jobs. A report commissioned by Britain’s Core Cities found that High Speed 2 will support the creation of up to 1m British jobs. Indeed, a commitment by the government to accelerate HS2 would give an immediate boost to the British construction industry, by creating the expectation of a market for its products.
    But with only 70 miles of high-speed line, the UK has slumped behind countries such as Morocco with 422 miles and Saudi Arabia with 342. The absence of a high-speed rail line connecting the north of England to London and the European Union is a continuous embarrassment to British businesses promoting UK plc overseas. We call on the government to approve plans for HS2 and to push ahead with its construction as soon as possible.
    Lord Robert Skidelsky, University of Warwick
    Ms Nicola Smith, Trades Union Congress
    Prof Danny Quah, London School of Economics
    Prof Anthony Venables, University of Oxford
    Prof Shanti Chakravarty, Bangor University
    Prof Huw Dixon, Cardiff University
    Prof Keith Pilbeam, City University London
    Prof John Van Reenen, London School of Economics
    Prof Mich Tvede, Newcastle University
    Prof Glauco De Vita, Oxford Brookes University
    Prof Phil Lawler, Swansea University
    Prof Ioannis Theodossiou, University of Aberdeen
    Prof John Hudson, University of Bath
    Prof Fabien Postel-Vinay, University of Bristol
    Dr Paul Allanson, University of Dundee
    Prof Christian Ghiglino, University of Essex
    Prof Ronald MacDonald, University of Glasgow
    Prof Hans-Martin Krolzig, University of Kent
    Prof Giuseppe Fontana, University of Leeds
    Prof Stephen Hall, University of Leicester
    Prof Pierre-Richard Agenor, University of Manchester
    Prof Rick van der Ploeg, University of Oxford
    Prof Rod Cross, University of Strathclyde
    Prof Paul Dunne, University of the West of England
    Prof Peter Howells, University of the West of England
    Prof Mike Clements, University of Warwick
    Prof Peter Smith, University of York
    Prof Panicos O. Demetriades, University of Leicester

    • “As economists, we are concerned that our poor infrastructure is a major vulnerability to Britain’s economic competitiveness and future growth. The UK’s infrastructure has steadily fallen behind competing countries over the past decade. The World Economic Forum has ranked the UK a mediocre 28th for “quality of overall infrastructure” and 19th for our railroads”
      How true.
      £33,000,000.000 would go a long way to remedying that overall transport infrastructure situation rather than a single new railsystem only 200 miles long.

    • It’s interesting that the Telegraph,FT and Guardian letters happen to arrive on the same day,from business people,(including Siemens..surprise!)academic economists,and union leaders – all with a vested interest,and timed to come just ahead of Justine Greening’s announcement.The extra hundred signatories on the first letter were ,no doubt,simply invited to add their names without any specific input.One wonders who orchestrated this,and if they’re feeling desperate?”Wealthy ideologues” ?If the cap fits,wear it!

      • @Peter Fry – until a few days I had not taken any interest in the HS2 debate. To my embarrassment, I had assumed that the opponents were your average CPRE NIMBYS who object to everything under the sun. However the PR support for HS2 has some of the hallmarks of a very well-orchestrated government propaganda operation -all participants constantly repeating the same themes about “economic growth” over and over. Calling opponents “wealthy ideologues” is just part of this imo. They don’t have a solid evidence base under their claims so now they move into “attack the messenger” mode, and try and smear all critics as wealthy blue-bloods. This is an attempt to isolate the existing critics from potential new recruits by tarring them. Someone on another post mentioned heuristics and that is what the pro groups will hope most people will act on – appealing but ultimately hollow sound bites about “job creation” etc. That will work well in places like the northwest and fuels the entrenched myth that all southerners are just horse-riding aristos who gad about in their Bentleys all day.

      • I’m surprised the guy from Siemens had the nerve to sign the letter. I’d have thought they would want to keep their lobbying efforts quiet given the “local difficulties” that they have had in recent years in not 1 but 4 territories.

        It is of course no coincidence that the letters all arrived in the press on the same day. The Campaign for High Speed rail clearly orchestrated this to try to pave the way as much as possible for a positive announcement from Ms Greening next week. Maybe the desire to get all these ducks in a row might have been the reason the announcement was deferred past Christmas.

        The CHSR’s PR agency has done a decent job but there isn’t anything new here and the HS2 proposals still don’t do what is claimed on the tin.

        I hope the Stop HS2 campaign can launch it’s own PR onslaught and in this age of ” permanent, partial attention ” the message has to be simple. How many better ways are there to spend £ 33 bn ? The answer is lots.

    • They were always going to approve this, for me I believe this the start of the real fight to get this stupid project stopped, time to really get stuck in. I’m not disheartened by this announcement it’s just another indication of how off the tracks (sorry about the pun) this Gov is with popular opinion…it’s a real vote loser in their heart land.

  4. crikey Peter – looks like you’ve been completely outdone there! Another example of twisted and negative propaganda churned out by the pro HS2 lobby.

    Thanks to Penny for pointing out the facts – its no wonder its difficult to get such a large amount of the population to understand the detail when people like Peter Davidson continue to distort the facts to bolster their own myopic view.

    • Why are we still being told that HS2 will bring benefits of £44bn when that is based on fallacious arguments and that it will create or support the creation of 1 million jobs

      • So that hmg can spend taxpayers money, ie our own, on short term uk jobs ie our own to create something that we ie most of us shall not have the funds to use, and then sell on at rock bottom price to investors from elsewhere. These millions of jobs are not real, they’re built on debt. Its a farce, except its really a tragedy.

  5. This article is a rehash of existing knowledge and yet another example of blatantly selective editing to deliver a pre-determined narrative

    We can all play that game – here are two extracts from the Committee’s report, which it might be argued are more salient than anything reproduced in this article

    We believe that there is a good case for proceeding with a high-speed rail network, principally because of the substantial improvements in capacity and connectivity that it would provide, not only for services to and from London but also between the major cities of the Midlands, the North and Scotland. There would also be substantial benefits to passengers and freight on the classic network from the released capacity that would result. Its development should be closely integrated with plans for the classic rail network and other major transport infrastructure.

    Whilst the alternatives proposed by groups such as 51m offer substantial additional passenger capacity, they are not of the same scale as HS2. The rapid growth in passenger numbers over the past 15 years shows the need to plan on a larger scale and for the long term. We do not wish our successors to be faced with a situation in ten years time where demand has continued to grow but insufficient time remains to provide the necessary capacity. We therefore support the proposal for a new rail line between London and Birmingham and onwards to Manchester and Leeds.

    Of course the Transport Select Committee raised many questions about current proposals for High Speed Rail; they were charged with that task from the outset and it would have been strange had they delivered such a comprehensive and detailed analysis without pointing out ways in which the scheme could be improved. The fact is the Committee endorsed the principle of High Speed Rail, the currently chosen route and specifically rejected the alternatives proposed by groups such as 51M, STOPHS2, HS2AA et al

    I expect the Minister to decide in favour of HS2, with the route3 option remaining in situ – yes, it’s likely that some tinkering around the edges will feature in her statement to the House but if those inhabiting the anti-HS2 ranks are hoping for some kind of volte face on either the principle of High Speed Rail or the preferred route option, I believe they are heading for a big disappointment?

    • Peter, you are deliberately attempting to mislead readers of this website.

      You are quoting from the discussions of the draft report, and you have included wording that the Transport Select Committee explicitly voted to reject.

      The paragraph they approved reads very differently to your comment: it is

      “44. The debate on capacity seems to us to reveal two contrasting views. On one view, rising demand on the West Coast corridor is essentially a problem, to be tackled by least-cost incremental improvements coupled with measures to suppress demand. On the other view, rising demand is, for strategic reasons, to be welcomed and indeed fostered. As noted in Chapter 2, we consider that the Government needs to explain more clearly this strategic case and in particular why such arguments do not apply to road and air transport. Provided this is done, we support the step change that a highspeed rail link between London, the Midlands, the North and Scotland could bring to the capacity, quality, reliability and frequency of rail services between our major cities, and to those served by the existing WCML. Whilst the alternatives proposed by groups such as 51m offer substantial additional passenger capacity, they are not of the same scale as HS2. The rapid growth in passenger numbers over the past 15 years shows the need to plan on a larger scale and for the long term. We do not wish our successors to be faced with a situation in ten years’ time where demand has continued to grow but insufficient time remains to provide the necessary capacity. We call on the Government to set out a clear and comprehensive long-term strategy for transport and the place of high-speed rail within it.”

      Like the Transport Select Committee, we are still waiting for the Government to explain the strategic case for high speed rail – and for all the other major issues they raised to be answered.

      As we said in the article these are “issues which should have been looked at before the HS2 proposal was made public in 2010″. And HS2 Ltd are still refusing to answer them.

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