Technology Not HS2

This is a guest article by Tara Farley, Denham Against HS2

Oxford University last year announced the use of video conferencing to reduce the travel burden on students travelling across campus and wider afield from home and overseas. While insurance giant AXA has slashed $100 million in the last three years from its travel budget using video conferencing. Helvetia Wealth save 100 travel hours a fortnight and shave $70,000 a year off travel costs annually using audio and video conferencing. Government agencies have long seen the benefit in technology with North Wales Police investing in a range of technologies to reduce travel burdens since 2008. (Source: Cisco)

There is a raft of both small, medium and large private and public sector companies adopting audio and visual conferencing solutions to reduce the travel burden and provide a better work life balance for employees. At the same time, city centre real estate is a premium and businesses no longer want or need to provide a dedicated desk for employees.

Audio and video technology has been around for some time but it is the explosion in cloud based and software as service (SaaS) applications, which enable even tiny firms without large IT infrastructures to benefit. Anyone with a laptop can now access simple collaboration tools such as Skype and WebEx. The days of attending every meeting physically in person are disappearing. Anyone who has used advance teleconferencing already knows that with mega pixel cameras and stable infrastructures your colleagues on the other side of the world are tangibly in the same room. Why the Government is hell bent on ignoring the explosion of these technologies when assessing the need for HS2 is dumbfounding.

Many people already enjoy home working. Personally, I have worked from home for nearly fifteen years while employed by some of the largest corporations in the world. A recent survey published in the Evening Standard demonstrated London based workers would also relish a couple of days a week working from the comfort of their home. Universities are seeing students using online distance learning out performing those who are campus based.

We are told that rail travel is increasing at a rate of 6% per annum inflated by the rise of mass immigration over the last decade. However, if we are seeing the above trends in home working and hot desking then the need to travel to an office five days of the week could become as dated as sitting in your employers office smoking a cigarette.

This is only considering the technology that is available right now, not what is available in five to ten or even twenty years. Twitter did not exist five years ago so how will other communication tools change the way we work, rest and play. Even if you are not already deploying these types of technologies in your workplace you probably already benefit from internet shopping and the effect on the traditional high street is evident as we prefer to shop from home and Amazon becomes the most powerful retailer in the world. Gone are the days of driving to and from the video rental store and racking up late fees as we live stream film and video direct into our homes.

It is something this Government really need to asses before burdening the taxpayer with a £34 billion pound bill for HS2. Considering we have a minister for civil society I find it astounding, we no longer have a minister for technology yet we did in the 1960s before the internet and the proliferation of mobile phones and devices. We are yet to realise the benefits of the 4G mobile network, due to be launched in UK cities later this year, which the Government is strangely delaying through its Ofcom auctioning process. The Government needs to re-dress the balance and research how communications and related technologies are likely to affect the way we travel before the next generation is paying for HS2, while sat at home working and wondering why there is train thundering through the countryside at 250mph with no one on it.

7 comments to “Technology Not HS2”
  1. If I can just butt into this debate, it seems to me that some key issues are not being confronted.
    The demand and capacity figures that are being given as a justification for building HS2 are highly contested. None of us can take them as a ‘given’ in this debate. That is a central problem for many who do not put their money behind HS2. Those who simply ignore this do their argument no favours.

    Even if we all did agree on the demand and capacity figures, it would still remain to be discussed whether we should just endlessly ‘predict and provide’ or if policy should be somewhere else including managing demand. Improving broadband is one part of delivering on the possibility of this. No good putting your head in the sand about an endless ability to predict and provide. No good denying that given the chance, businesses are really keen to cut time and monetary costs of travelling.

    Even if we did agree on the demand and capacity figures across the nation, we need to discuss whether the route due to be covered by HS2 is the highest priority we have. ORR suggests it is about their 39th priority; Euston is far from the fullest station in London. Other areas across the UK have extremely urgent rail transport needs. So why this amount of money on such a low priority route? Demand and capacity issues exist right across the UK.

    And what if we accept that predicting demand and capacity figures will always be ambiguous – is that a reason to prioritise a plan that builds in a great deal more risk (very long time between plan and delivery; and have to build it all before any it will deliver) or is it a reason to take a less risky approach and upgrade railways quicker, cheaper, incrementally in response to known capacity problems, and across the country? One nation and all that!

    As to South Korea – well their overall HSR plans are rather modest if you look at the total planned distance of 647k. Also their more recent current top design speeds are a more modest 350kph not HS2’s 400kph which introduces such significant problems with the impact of the route. And there is that long ‘lead-time’ problem to pay attention to – their HSR network was planned and begun long before they embraced the broadband issue. And of course not everything is rosy in the garden of South Korea’s rail system if you don’t just focus on the HSR line that does make a profit and look instead at the whole transport network in the round because they too have had ‘difficulties’ with the downgrading of what we would call classic services. In any case, it is a different country with different needs; different classic and commuter provision; different economic structure; and different concerns about responding to a future oil and CO2 crisis.

    The key issue for us is whether HS2 is the right priority for transport policy in the UK in 2012. I don’t see the data that suggests it is.

  2. The author of this article and readers here might like to consider the implications of these three on-line resources
    First an article from America about the use of smart phone techonology and wi-fi and its impact on travel habits there – after all the USA is often held up as a world leader in cutting edge technology?
    Second an article from Germany about the impact of Wi-Fi on rail passenger habits in Europe and its influence on the general travel market, ie. modal shift between competing transport mediums,_says_research.pdf
    Finally an article reporting on South Korea and development of its High Speed Rail rail network
    The reasoning behind this last URL is the fact that South Korea is the country with the fastest and most widely available (fibre optic based) broadband in the world – if development of superfast broadband technology and its general availability to the public is held up as a strategy capable of substituting for the need to develop high speed rail, maybe you should be explaining this to South Koreans and their decision makers because they don’t seem to be getting the message?

    • Peter, you start by listing an article published on the “Californian High Speed Rail Blog”, written by someone who is “the former Chairman of Californians for High Speed Rail and is still a board member of that organization”, which is trying to rebut an article on the Wall Street Journal, and written by . Although one needs a WSJ subscription to read the entire article (it’s here: “Infostructure Is the New Infrastructure. We aren’t going to need 20 lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike, or $100 billion high-speed rail lines, to save us from national gridlock.”) some of it is reproduced in the blog you linked to:

      “Two things seem clear about the 21st century: Internet connectivity and bandwidth are going to improve so that today’s technologies behind services like Skype are going to change beyond recognition. Each generation of young people will be more accustomed to socializing and interacting online. We are going to have more, better and cheaper alternatives to traditional business and commuting travel patterns, and our society will find it more and more natural and desirable to shift from expensive, time-consuming travel in “meat space” to doing business online.

      “…The challenge isn’t to move more meat; it is to move more information more effectively, and to re-engineer business practices and social organization to take full advantage of the extraordinary efficiencies that the Internet affords. The rush-hour rituals of the 20th century aren’t destined to continue to the end of time. Telecommuting, flextime and mini-commutes to satellite offices will change the way we work.”

      Then you linked to an article on a website of an organisation which publishes a whole range of transport related magazines – – including “Railway Interiors International”. No wonder the article you linked to says “The UK‟s East Coast rail service saw a jump in riders when it offered Wi-Fi service to all passengers for free in 2008.”

      • Penny – many thanks for the additional background info and links you’ve supplied, which only serves to illustrate the contested nature of this debate.

        There are those who subscribe to the view that broadband technology will somehow impact on future travel demand to such an extent that HS2 and its like will be redundant before too long. If so improving broadband technology doesn’t seem to be impacting on plans to expand High Speed Rail on the other side of La Manche and this kind of evolution does not recognise National boudaries? Indeed, there are counter arguments, which you’ll not be surprised to discover I tend to give more credence to, claiming quite the opposite – that for every journey new technology replaces, it encourages more travel by facilitating more frequent and efficient human contact?

        Quite why (High Speed) rail travel in particular should be discouraged by new technologies is something never adequately explained by anti-HS2 campaigners – I’d argue that it will be short-haul air suffering disproportionately from the super-fast broadband effect?

        Finally I note that you’ve shied away from discussing South Korea – I seems that the movers and shakers there are firmly of the opinion that super-fast broadband and High Speed Rail development go hand in hand, they are definitely NOT mutually exclusive.

        So we’ll just have to wait and see who is more accurate in their powers of prediction – of course you don’t want to let matters unfold in this manner – your campaign is seeking to snuff out the potential of High Speed Rail (outside London and the South East naturally) before it even gets off the ground?

  3. “While insurance giant AXA has slashed $100 million in the last three years from its travel budget using video conferencing.”

    AXA employees were putting in claims totalling over $90,000 travel expenses *PER DAY* for the past 3 years? I think not.

    “We are told that rail travel is increasing at a rate of 6%…”

    You are told that because it is.

    “…but it is the explosion in cloud based and software as service (SaaS) applications, which enable even tiny firms without large IT infrastructures to benefit.”

    I’m told that VPNs that let you access work from home, internet shopping and video conferencing have been all been around for over a decade and yet rail travel is still rising the whole time. The answer to travel capacity limitations is practical solutions, not IT sales jargon.

    • Yes, remote working has been around for years however it has improved significantly from where it started and is now a real option for work. I and my colleges have the option to work from home when we feel it is the better environment for the piece of work you are involved in at that time. There are some very large companies who have policies of their staff working x days a week at home, you know why it saves them huge amounts of money, people can share desks, reduces travel claims, people work more at home (no commute to drain you).

      It’s our out of touch Government who has probably never seen this mode of working let alone embraced it, they need to come out of the past and embrace the future, they need to drop HS2 and invest in something worthwhile.

  4. Excellent article

    I too worked for a large intenational company from home in the 90’s and cut my travelling in half so would be need to travel even less with the technology available now

    Government and employers organisations should be taking the lead and actively championing remote working so employees and businesses save significant sums of money and a better work/life balance

    The Dft initiative on alternatives to travel goes largely unpublicised and must be resurrected if we are to compete in the coming decades

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