From the Archives: An argument we shouldn’t use?

This was originally published in April 2011. It’s noticeable that the Department for Transport has now come round to our way of thinking.

A couple of weeks ago, in April 2011, a few of us went to the debate on HS2 organised by Birmingham Friends of the Earth and Sustainability West Midlands.

The train we caught to Birmingham had plenty of spare seats, in spite of being in the “peak hour” fare period. We had a table: the table had sockets available “for charging laptops and mobiles”. The train operator was encouraging us to make use of our time on the train, and even providing extra electricity.

However many of the economic benefits from HS2 are supposed to come about because business travellers sit on trains twiddling their thumbs. Less time on the trains, so the the HS2 thinking goes, means more time in the office, and that must be a good thing surely?

But for many business travellers, time spent on a train is time available for certain types of thinking intensive work away from the interruptions of the office. Or catching up on emails, or reading documents, or any one of a number of other productive tasks. Spending a few minutes less on a train does not replace unused time with useful time, it just changes where the useful time is being spent.

So it was interesting to hear what Jim Steer, of Greengauge 21, had to say about working on trains during the debate. His view was that it was an old argument, a pointless argument he said, one that the anti-HS2 campaigners should stop using.

That suggests it is a strong argument, one that the pro-HS2 camp would rather not have to answer. They are quite happy for the taxpayer to spend £33 billion on a railway network, based on economic reasoning that was unplugged years ago.

Sorry, Jim, don’t base your arguments on the value of wasted time. We will carry on saying it: time on trains can be and is used productively.

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